The Meghalaya High Court has dealt a blow to three individuals accused of inciting the violent events of July 24th in Tura, Meghalaya. Labenn Ch Marak, a prominent figure in the ACHIK organization, Balkarin Ch Marak of the Garo Hills State Movement Committee, and Bernita R. Marak, ACHIK's general secretary, sought anticipatory bail to shield themselves from potential arrest.
However, the court's decision to reject their pleas has cleared the path for their potential apprehension by law enforcement.
The trio's involvement in the tumultuous events of July 24th was shrouded in controversy. ACHIK leader Labenn Ch Marak and Balkarin Ch Marak, co-chairman of the Garo Hills State Movement Committee, were present alongside Chief Minister Conrad Sangma during a meeting at the Chief Minister's office in Tura. The day saw violent demonstrations outside the building, leading to the charges against the three individuals.
Justice Wanlura Diengdoh, delivering a common judgment, emphasized the prohibition stipulated under section 43D(4) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, stating that the applications for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC could not be entertained. In dismissing the pleas, Justice Diengdoh also noted that investigations were ongoing into the circumstances of the Tura incident.
"The Investigating Officer in his wisdom has thought it fit that the incident apart from being violent in nature, the presence of the Hon’ble Chief Minister and other dignitaries and obviously being the target of the mob’s ire, on being instigated by the petitioners herein and others who have taken part in the said violent action, therefore, a case under the UAP Act, 1967, apart from the penal provisions under the IPC has been made out," Justice Diengdoh said.
While the specific roles of the accused in the violent episode were not detailed in the investigation, the seriousness of the offense led the court to refrain from interfering in the ongoing investigation. The court underscored that the nature of the offense warranted a careful and comprehensive inquiry.
Legal representative S Deb argued on behalf of the petitioners, asserting their lack of involvement in the incident. He pointed out that the demonstration the trio participated in was peaceful and had received prior permission from the district administration. Deb also contended that the inclusion of Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other sections in the case against the petitioners was an attempt to curtail their constitutional right to personal liberty.
In contrast, Advocate General Amit Kumar, representing the police, highlighted the gravity of the events that unfolded on July 24th. He noted that the involvement of high-ranking dignitaries, including the Chief Minister, elevated the incident to the status of an 'unlawful activity' under Section 2(o) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Kumar asserted that such actions threatened the state's unity, integrity, and security, justifying the application of relevant sections.
The court's decision has ignited discussions on the boundaries of anticipatory bail in cases involving offenses of such magnitude. The Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Anand Teltumde vs. The State of Maharashtra & Ors (2021) was cited by Deb to emphasize the importance of prima facie evidence.
However, Kumar argued that the bar under Section 43D (4) of the UAP Act prohibited the consideration of anticipatory bail in such situations.
The rejection of anticipatory bail applications has rekindled debates about the balance between personal liberty and the state's responsibility to maintain order.