Welcome judicial action to check executive excess
In passing the order they did, granting bail to three students charged with terrorist conspiracy under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani of the Delhi High Court did a major service to Indian democracy. For one, they granted bail to three individuals who have suffered needless loss of their liberty. For another, the judgment upheld the right to dissent and protest in a democracy. Further, it upbraided the police for misuse of UAPA against protesters, making it clear that no case of conspiracy or a terrorist attack lay in the actions and utterances of the accused cited by the police. Fourth, it reprimanded the special court that had failed to apply its judicial mind on the applicability of terror charges brought by the executive. Finally, in the process, the Delhi High Court upheld the role of the judiciary as a check on the executive.
These are sterling judicial pronouncements and should serve as a systemic corrective. However, there remains a major gap between pronouncements by the higher judiciary and subsequent action by the police and the lower judiciary. Time and again, the Supreme Court has frowned on the charge of sedition being slapped on those who raised the voice of dissent and did little else, but this judicial displeasure has not prevented people from filing sedition complaints against individuals, the police from converting these frivolous complaints into FIRs, and lower courts from framing formal charges based on such FIRs. The failure of such higher judicial wisdom to inform the conduct of the police — strange dilly-dallying with their investigation — and the lower judiciary must be stopped. The higher judiciary must take disciplinary action against such errant behaviour. Criticism of police action is criticism of the political executive that controls the police as well.
The ruling’s yardstick should apply to other cases, too. The only grouse could be that the intervention took so long to end the miscarriage of justice triggered by the police and the lower court.