24 hours 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.
The matter was heard by Additional Sessions Judge Revinder Bedi, and rapidly devolved into a dramatic back-and-forth between the activists’ lawyers on side and Delhi Police’s investigating officer and the Special Public Prosecutor on the other.
At the end of the hearing the judge said he would pass his order later today
It began with the Special Prosecutor – who was specially summoned, and whose number was apparently unavailable even to the Public Prosecutor – complaining he was unaware of a petition.
Delhi Police had filed the petition seeking more time to verify addresses of the activists; “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.
The activists’ lawyers 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.
“The chargesheet lists our address as Delhi. The arrest memo shows Delhi address. My parents address (hometown addresses) isn’t our address here. As an adult we can rent a place and live in Delhi,” the activists said through their lawyer.
And in a searing remark the activists’ lawyer added: “Verification is the work of the police. If they want to go to Australia, let them go. Our work is to submit the bail bond. High Court order is clear that the 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 said.
The judge then asked Delhi Police and the Special Prosecutor how much time they will need to actually complete the verification. He was told it could take a further two days.
“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,” he 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 and charged with conspiracy linked to the Delhi riots under anti-terror law UAPA.