A day after the Delhi High Court allowed their bail, student-activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha remain in jail, with Delhi Police claiming procedural delays in verifying sureties and addresses, and filing a last-gasp petition to deny their release at this time.
Ms Narwal, Ms Kalita and Mr Tanha had moved the trial court for their immediate release after they remained imprisoned past the 1 pm deadline set by the High Court yesterday. They were ordered to be released on personal bonds of Rs 50,000 each and two sureties of a similar amount.
The matter was heard this afternoon and devolved into a back-and-forth between the activists’ lawyers on side and the investigating officer and Special Public Prosecutor on the other.
At the end of it Additional Sessions Judge Revinder Bedi said she would pass her order later today.
The Special Prosecutor – who was specially summoned, and whose number was apparently unavailable even to the Public Prosecutor – first said he was unaware of Delhi Police’s petition.
The police had filed it seeking more time to verify addresses of the activists; the “permanent” addresses, they said, were in different states, which posed a travel problem.
“The accused have given permanent address as Jharkhand, Assam and Haryana. It has to be verified… (there is) paucity of time to complete verification,” the Special Prosecutor said.
“We have to go to the banks also to verify all the bail bonds. It takes time to verify each and every document of theirs,” the investigating officer added, as CPM leader Brinda Karat, who is standing in surety for Ms Narwal, sat in court.
The activists hit back by pointing out that all of them were, in fact, residents of Delhi, and were arrested from their residences in the city, which was what was listed on the documents.
“Charge sheet lists address as Delhi. Arrest memo shows Delhi address. Parents’ address (hometowns) isn’t our address here. As adults we rent a place and live in Delhi,” their lawyer said.
The lawyer added: “Verification is the work of the police. Our work is to submit the bail bond. High Court order is clear… accused have to be released within 24 hours once they submit bail bond.”
“We have done our work. Can’t be in jail because police haven’t done their work,” the lawyer said.
“We will continue to remain in Delhi till all verification is done. We are giving an undertaking… but pass an order that we should be released today itself,” the lawyer also said.
The judge then asked Delhi Police and the Special Prosecutor how much time they would need to actually complete the verification.
She was told it could take a further three days – one to verify sureties and two to verify addresses.
“We need time till tomorrow to verify the sureties. For Devangana, the permanent address is Assam. The officer has to take Rajdhani to reach there,” the Special Prosecutor said, to which Judge Bedi shot back: “You have all the resources… It is not only Rajdhani available.”
The entire argument seemed to leave the judge unimpressed with the police’s actions so far.
“Can’t accept your argument that you need so much time. There shouldn’t be a delay because of verification… you could have verified their Delhi addresses,” she said.
On Tuesday the High Court said there is a difference between the “constitutionally guaranteed right to protest” and terrorist activity as it granted bail to Ms Narwal, Ms Kalita and Mr Tanha.
Natasha Narwal, 32, and Devangana Kalita, 31, and Asif Iqbal Tanah, 25, were arrested in May last year over alleged links to the Delhi riots and charged with conspiracy under anti-terror law UAPA.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita are JNU students associated with Pinjra Tod – a collective of women students of and alumni from colleges and universities across Delhi, who fight for women’s rights.
Mr Tanha is a student from Jamia Millia Islamia.
With input from PTI