Umar Khalid’s bail petition continues to be adjourned ad nauseam

The appeal at the Supreme Court against the Order of the Delhi High Court denying bail to student activist Umar Khalid for his alleged role in the anti-Citizenship Amendment protest continues to be postponed and will now be heard in January 2024.

FOR how long must people accused under serious provisions of law and held, many a time without trial, in prisons wait in the purgatory before the courts realise that adjournment may not be the just course of action in such cases?

Take the case of Dr Umar Khalid, hearing of whose bail application has been postponed more than ten times already since May this year.

The activist and former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University stands accused of hatching a larger conspiracy in the North East Delhi riots of February 2020.

Charged under various provisions of the anti-terrorist legislation Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA), Khalid has been behind bars since he was picked up on September 13, 2020.

Charges against Khalid

Communal violence broke out on February 23, 2020, against the backdrop of the anti- Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and the proposed National Register for Citizens protests in northeastern Delhi between supporters of CAA and those protesting against it.

Khalid is accused of being one of the “masterminds” of a conspiracy to instigate violence and terrorism-related activities in the Delhi riots.

According to the chargesheet filed by the Delhi police, Khalid delivered an inflammatory speech in Amravati, Maharashtra, a week before riots broke out in Delhi. 

Two first information reports (FIRs) were filed against Dr Khalid. 

In one of the FIRs (FIR no. 59/2020), charges under Sections 147 (punishment for rioting) and 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of common object) and 302 ( punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with charges under Sections 13 ( punishment for unlawful activities), 16 (punishment for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA have been framed against him and 17 others.

Charges under the Arms Act, 1959 for the use of arms during riots have also been framed against him. 

Additional charges under Sections 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of enmity between groups on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence etc.) of the IPC were also framed by the Delhi police in 2021.

In another FIR (FIR no. 101), Khalid, along with others, has been accused of vandalism and arson in northeastern Delhi’s Khajuri Khas. This FIR was registered on the grounds that he was part of a large crowd at Khajuri Khas that was pelting stones at the people nearby including the police and setting nearby vehicles on fire.

While he was granted bail in the second FIR, he continues to be denied bail in the first FIR.

What has happened in Khalid’s bail application so far?

On October 18, 2022, the Delhi High Court division Bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar found the allegations against Khalid prima facie true.

As per Section 43D(5) of UAPA, bail cannot be granted if prima facie evidence suggests commission of an offence under the statute.

Before the court finally heard his application, it put off the hearing on the grounds that the Supreme Court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law.

Dr Khalid was granted interim bail in December 2022 for a week to attend his sister’s marriage. The bail conditions included that he would not be in touch with any of the witnesses in the case and he would daily video call the investigating officer among others.

Three other co-accused persons, student activists Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, were granted bail by the Delhi High Court Bench comprising Justice Mridul in June 2021.

While granting them bail, the court remarked that in its “anxiety to suppress dissent, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity.”

Khalid filed a special leave petition against the Delhi High Court’s Order before the Supreme Court in April.

On May 18, the division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli issued notice to the Delhi police represented by Additional Solitical General S.V. Raju.

The matter was listed after six weeks.

On July 12, when the matter came for hearing before a Bench comprising Justices Bopanna and M.M. Sundresh, Delhi police sought more time to file counter-affidavits.

Sibal objected to the counter-affidavits. He said: “In a bail matter, what counter is to be filed? The man [has been] inside for two years and 10 months.”

The court agreed to adjourn the matter to July 24, stating: “Bail application may take one–two minutes.”

When the matter came up before Justices Bopanna and Bela M. Trivedi on July 24, Sibal circulated a letter of adjournment.

The matter was then listed on August 9 before Justices Bopanna and Prashant Kumar Mishra. However, Justice Mishra recused without any reason.

On August 18, the matter came up before another Bench. It was adjourned as it was listed on a miscellaneous day.

The matter came up again on September 5 before Justices Trivedi and Dipankar Datta.

The court postponed it to next week because Khalid’s advocate Kapil Sibal was unavailable.

Finally on September 12, a Bench comprising Justices Bose and Trivedi said that they would examine the bail application on documentary evidence.

The matter came up on October 12 before the Bench of Justices Trivedi and Datta. The court stated that due to paucity of time, it would not be able to hear the matter.

To this, Sibal stated: “I can demonstrate in twenty minutes that there is no case at all.”

It was again listed on November 1, when it was adjourned to November 22. However, the matter was not listed in the cause list on that date.  

Meanwhile, on October 31, another petition filed by Khalid challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of the UAPA came up before Justices Bose and Trivedi. 

They tagged it with the bail petition. 

Subsequently, the matter came up before a Bench of Justices Trivedi and Satish Chandra Sharma today. However, on the joint request of Sibal and Delhi police, the court listed the matter for further hearing on January 10, 2024.

The Leaflet