Neha Joshi

The Bombay High Court on Friday granted bail to Iqbal Ahmed Kabir Ahmed, charged with various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Explosive Substance Act for supposedly joining the banned organisation – Islam State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) [Iqbal Ahmed Kabir Ahmed v. National Investigation Agency & Anr.].

A Bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar opined that “the further incarceration of the appellant, in the face of extremely unlikely situation of the trial being completed in near future, would be in negation of the protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21.”

interpreting the Supreme Court judgment in Zahoor Watali v. NIA, the Court opined that “if the expression, ‘reasonable grounds to believe that the accusation is prima facie true’ and ‘reasonable grounds for believing that the accused is not guilty’ are compared and contrasted, a greater degree of satisfaction is required to record an opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is not guilty of the alleged offence, albeit prima facie.”

The Court directed that Ahmed be released on bail upon furnishing of bail bond of ₹1 lakh with sureties of like amount to the satisfaction of the NIA Court.

Ahmed was directed not to leave the jurisdiction of Special Court under National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act.

He was also directed to report to the NIA Mumbai Branch twice every week for a period of one month from the date of his release; thereafter once a week for two moths and finally first Tuesday every month, till the end of the trial.

Ahmed had moved the High Court after the Special NIA Court had rejected his bail application.

The prosecution’s case was that Ahmed was a co-conspirator in the alleged plan to carry out an attack on the Aurangabad ATS Unit and was involved in the making of a low intensity Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The prosecution relied on materials collected from the house of Ahmed during search and seizure that pointed out his alleged connection with the ISIS.

Senior Advocate Mihir Desai, appearing for Ahmed, refuted the allegations pointing out that there was nothing in the chargesheet which indicated that Ahmed was involved in the making of the IED.

He submitted that Ahmed had been arrested in August 2016 and primary chargesheet was filed by the Anti-Terrorist Squad Maharashtra in October 2016. Thereafter, the case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and they filed a supplementary chargesheet in 2019. The charges were framed in 2021.

He submitted that Ahmed had already spent nearly 5 years in judicial custody already.

When the Court queried about the number of witnesses and when the trial would commence, Special Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, appearing for NIA, submitted that the recording of evidence would commence on July 20, 2021 and out of 150 witnesses, the Court would be examining only 75-80 witnesses.

She submitted that the delay in commencement of trial was because of the accused himself who had been filing multiple applications and not because of the prosecution.

Opposing the appeal, she argued that the Court could always expedite the trial or pass an order directing day to day conduct of trial.

Desai however retorted that with only 112 working days in the next 6 months it was not possible for the trial to start despite the best efforts.

After hearing the parties at length, the Court reserved the appeal for orders.

While reserving the appeal for verdict, the Court had commented on the condition of the undertrials languishing in prisons due to the COVID pandemic which has caused delays in trial.

courtesy Bar and Bench