NEW DELHI/KOLKATA, April 15 (IANS): Bringing great relief to his family and supporters, the Supreme Court Friday granted bail to human rights activist and doctor Binayak Sen, who is undergoing life imprisonment in a Chhattisgarh jail on charges of sedition and links with outlawed Maoists.
No case for sedition was made out against Sen, Justice Harjit Singh Bedi and Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad said while making a scathing observation that a person does not become a Gandhian just because he is found with a biography of Mahatma Gandhi.
The bail would be subject to the satisfaction of the trial court, the judges said.
The court also ridiculed the state's submission that Sen was actively involved in spreading disharmony and disaffection against the state.
"We are in a democratic country. At best he (Binayak Sen) is a sympathiser. There are many sympathisers of a cause," the court observed.
The court asked senior counsel Uday Lalit appearing for the Chhattisgarh government: "Even going by your case, does admitted fact point to violence and sedition (against Binayak Sen)?"
"Distribution and circulation and even possession of (Maosit ideology and propaganda material) does not amount to sedition," the court said.
At this, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani appearing for Sen told the court that the documents that the state government had relied upon for alleging sedition against the rights activists were "available in the book form and could be had from any bookshop".
When Lalit said that an organ of judiciary (trial court and the Chhattisgarh High Court) had relied on these documents to hold Sen guilty of sedition, the court said, "Even in the worst case scenario, that he (Sen) was in possession of these documents, does not make him guilty of sedition".
As Lalit drew the attention of the court about Sen meeting the jailed Maoist leader Piyush Guha 35 times in three years, the court said: "They meet in the visitors' room in the presence of police officials and are searched before and after the meeting".
Sen, 61, now jailed in the Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, had challenged the Feb 10 order of the high court rejecting his bail plea.
The apex court decision on the "Shubho Nobo Borsho", the Bengali New Year, brought joy and relief to Sen's family.
"It's a very emotional moment and I am relieved. But I did shut my mind for the last four months and had stopped thinking... I have now slowly started breathing and unwinding and I am really feeling good," Sen's wife Ilina told reporters in Delhi.
Aparajita, Sen's daughter, said: "Our family was really shattered and it was a tough journey with Baba (father) inside (jail). This (judgment) is the result of everybody's hard work. Now I am looking forward to meeting him."
For Sen's mother Anasuya, this was the perfect beginning of the New Year.
"You can imagine how a mother feels when her son comes home. I am so happy," she told a news channel from her home in Kolkata.
Sen's brother Dipankar Sen also said he was overjoyed.
Ram Jethmalani, Sen's counsel, said even though he is usually not bothered with the victory or loss of a case he argues, the bail verdict has come as a happy moment.
"I must confess that this is one of those cases in which I am personally happy about what has happened. Normally, win or loss means nothing to me but I am very happy in this matter," Jethmalani told reporters.
"It almost establishes a matter of great principle that in a democracy everybody has the right to exercise his right to freedom of speech, and Binayak Sen has not indulged in any kind of violence nor has he ever pleaded with anybody that you must resort to violence," he added.
Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said the Chhattisgarh government should have "objectively, properly and without any prejudices" before bringing a sedition case against Sen.
Binayak Sen, a practicing doctor and social activist, was sentenced by the trial court Dec 24, 2010, for sedition after being accused of acting as a courier between Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata-based businessman Guha, both of whom have also been jailed for life.
The verdict sparked widespread criticism across India and abroad, including from international rights organisations and a group of Nobel laureates.
The state government, in its reply to Sen's petition in the high court, said he "has the same ideology as that of CPI-Maoist (Communist Party of India-Maoist) and he is addressed as a comrade by hardcore Naxalites (Maoists)".
"He provides active support and co-ordinates in spreading the base of CPI-Maoist in the country. For hardcore Naxalites, he arranges safe hideouts by arranging house on rent, helps open bank account, helps in getting employment to conceal identity and provides employment by incorporating trusts."