The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the Bombay High Court order acquitting former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba in which he was sentenced to life imprisonment for having alleged links with Maoists, reported Live Law.

The acquittal sentence of five others convicted in the case has also been suspended. A bench of Justices MR Shah and Bela M Trivedi was hearing a petition filed by the Maharashtra government challenging Saibaba’s acquittal on Friday.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government, had urged the Supreme Court to stay the Bombay High Court order directing jail authorities to immediately release Saibaba.

On Friday, the Nagpur bench of the High Court had freed the former Delhi University professor who was sentenced to life in 2017. A bench of Justices Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare had held that a sessions court in Gadchiroli charged Saibaba under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act without sanctions from the Centre.

In its order on Saturday, the Supreme Court said that the High Court did not consider Saibaba’s appeal on its merits. The judges noted that the High Court had only taken into account that a Gadchiroli sessions court had convicted Saibaba and others under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act without sanctions from the central government.

“Offences are very serious and if the state succeeds on merits, offences are very serious against the interest of the society, sovereignty and integrity of India,” the Supreme Court said on Saturday, according to Bar and Bench.

The Supreme Court issued notice and said it will consider whether an appellate court is justified in acquitting an accused person on the ground of irregular sanction when he was convicted on merit.

It also noted that the Bombay High Court had refused bail to Saibaba on medical grounds in 2020. The 55-year-old is wheelchair-bound as he suffers from ailments due to which 90% of his body is disabled.

The court clarified that it was only suspending the sentence and the litigants can apply for bail.

At the hearing, Mehta argued that Saibaba had not raised the ground of irregular sanction during his trial. He said that since the trial was under UAPA, Section 465 of the Code of Criminal Procedure applies in the case.

The section states that an appellate court cannot reverse a judgement on grounds including error, omission and irregularity in any sanction unless the judge is of the opinion that there has been failure of justice.

Mehta also said that the facts of the case are very disturbing.

“[The accused] supports use of arms in throwing out parliamentary form of democracy and encourages separatist actions in Jammu and Kashmir,” he added. “All actions against nation, attacking our security forces and even arranging meeting of commanders of naxalite forces.”

Senior Advocate R Basant, appearing for Saibaba, said that the case before High Court was argued on merits but it chose to grant relief only based on the procedural lapse and without going into the merits.

To this, the bench replied: “So High Court committing a mistake by not considering this and taking a shortcut... can the benefit of that be available to the accused? We are only finding fault with the High court here.”

Basant said that it was not a shortcut but a legally correct approach. He also pointed out Saibaba was granted bail twice before and he has never abused any of the restrictions imposed on him.

The Supreme Court, however, suspended the High Court order and sought response from the parties within four weeks. It will take up the matter on December 8.

Following his conviction in 2017, Saibaba was lodged at the Nagpur Central Jail. He was arrested in May 2014 after the police alleged that he was “likely to indulge in anti-national activities”. The former professor was granted interim bail in April 2016.

Apart from Saibaba, the High Court on Friday had acquitted accused Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Vijay Nan Tirki. Narote had died in prison on August 26 due to swine flu.