The Supreme Court, while hearing a plea on the 2020 Delhi violence on Tuesday, orally remarked that it does not believe in putting citizens behind bars unnecessarily, Live Law reported.

The court was hearing a Delhi Police appeal against a High Court order granting bail to student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha. The police have booked the three under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in a case related to the February 2020 riots in Delhi.

Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it in February 2020 in North East Delhi, killing at least 53 persons and injuring hundreds. Most of those killed in the violence were Muslims. The Delhi Police have alleged that Kalita, Narwal and Tanha were part of a “larger conspiracy” in the violence that followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice SK Kaul expressed concern about lengthy hearings on bail pleas, The Indian Express reported.

“Should High Courts even be spending so many hours on bail matters?” Justice Kaul asked. “...It’s a complete wastage of the High Court’s judicial time. Both sides want full trial to go on in a bail matter. I don’t understand.”

Advocate Rajat Nair, representing the police, contended that the prosecution had only responded to questions that the court posed. However, the counsel for the accused persons said that the trial court and the High Court had to delve into larger questions of law as the prosecution had raised those points during the bail hearing.

“All this interpretation of UAPA, Section 15, what is terror, everything came in the response by the State,” the counsel said. “…The question was put to us and so we had to satisfy the court on everything.”

However, Justice Kaul said that bail matters should not be dealt with in this manner. “We don’t believe in unnecessarily keeping people behind bars,” he said.

The Delhi High Court had granted bail to Kalita, Narwal and Tanha on June 15, 2021. In its order, it had criticised the government’s actions aimed at suppressing dissent.

“...It seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred,” the court said in its order. “If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

The High Court had said that the police’s allegations do not amount for a case under provisions of the UAPA pertaining to committing a terrorist act, raising funds for a terrorist act and conspiracy.

On June 18, 2021, the Supreme Court had said that the High Court judgement should not be treated as a precedent for other cases. However, it did not interfere with the bail order.

On Tuesday, the counsel for the applicants said that some of the co-accused persons were still in jail because of the Supreme Court’s order not to treat the High Court verdict as a precedent.

The Supreme Court listed the case for further hearing on January 31.