Binayak Sen, the village-based doctor sentenced to life imprisonment by a Raipur sessions court last December on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy, was today granted bail by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
The bench also used strong words in rubbishing the grounds for his conviction.“No case of sedition is made out against him and the evidence is baseless,” said the bail order of judges H S Bedi and C K Prasad.
Adding: “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser (of Naxalites) but it did not make him guilty of sedition. He is a sympathiser. Nothing beyond that.”
Sen, 61, and arrested in May 2007, was represented by veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani.
The government of Chhattisgarh had strongly opposed the petition and its senior counsel, U U Lalit, argued the trial court had gone into the allegations in detail and the present petition was only for bail. He said there was proof for visits by Sen to jailed Naxals and exchange of documents between them.
However, the judges countered that all visitors were searched and observed by jail staff. Hence, the question of passing on incriminating material did not arise. “The worst that can be said is that he was found in possession of general documents (relating to Naxal activities) but how can it be said that such possession would attract the charge of sedition?” they asked.
For good measure, they said the voluminous documents and other evidence produced by the state government had no relevance to the accusation. The allegation that Sen had met co-accused Piyush Guha 30 times in a jail and pamphlets and documents relating to Maoist activities were recovered from his possession did not mean he was involved in seditious activities.
Sen’s arrest, custody and trial, and then the sentence, had come in for strong criticism from within the country and abroad, as he has been commended more than once for his work among the rural poor. He is also a vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and had been critical of the government policy of meeting Naxal violence with extra-constitutional methods.
He had been arrested, as noted earlier, in May 2007, and denied bail till May 2009, when a Supreme Court vacation bench granted him one (an earlier SC bench, in December 2007, had rejected the plea). In December 2010 came his conviction, with two others, Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha.