In a latest and significant development, the Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice AM Khanwilkar in a latest judgment titled Asim Shariff Vs National Investigation Agency in Criminal Appeal No(s). 949 of 2019 (Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No(s). 1253 of 2019) delivered on July 1, 2019 has dismissed an appeal filed by a Popular Front of India leader Asim Shariff accused in the murder of a RSS worker Rudresh in Karnataka. It may be recalled that Asim Shariff’s application under Section 227 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 seeking his discharge from the case in which he was accused of various provisions under Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was dismissed by the Special Court. Also the Special Court framing charges against him was affirmed by the High Court rejecting his challenge against it.
To start with, this latest judgment authored by Justice Ajay Rastogi for himself and Justice AM Khanwilkar first and foremost after granting leave as mentioned in para 1 then goes on to point out in para 2 that, 'The present appeal has been preferred by the accused appellant against whom a criminal case bearing no. RC04/16-NIA-HYD came to be registered along with four other accused persons for the offences punishable under Sections 120-B, 109, 150, 153A, 302, 201 read with Section 34 of IPC; Sections 3 and 27 of the Arms Act and Sections 15, 16, 17, 18 & 20 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (hereinafter being referred to as 'UAP Act').'
Moving on, it is then stated in para 3 that, 'After completion of the investigation, final report was submitted before the trial Court against the accused persons including appellant. The appellant claims that there was no material for registering the criminal case neither investigating nor submitting the final report against him. At this stage, the appellant filed application under Section 227 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter being referred to as 'CrPC') seeking his discharge from the case for the aforesaid offences. The application was dismissed by the trial Judge/Special Judge who ordered for framing of charges against him for the aforesaid offences under Order dated 2nd January, 2018 came to be challenged by the appellant in a writ petition filed under Article 226 and 227 of Constitution of India read with Section 482 CrPC which was dismissed by a lucid impugned judgment dated 22nd November, 2018 which is a subject matter of challenge in the instant appeal.'
To recapitulate, para 4 then while dealing with the background of the case states that, 'The background facts giving rise to this appeal which needs to be noted are that a criminal case came to be registered as Crime No. 124/2016 on 16th October, 2016 for the offences punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC by Commercial Street Police after a complaint was filed by one Jayaram (CW-1), who stated that on 16th October, 2016 at around 12.40 p.m. when he along with his friends namely Rudresh, Harikrishna and Kumar assembled near Srinivas Medical Stores, Shivajinagar, one person (accused) being the pillion rider of the motorcycle hacked Rudresh with a sharp edged and lethal machete on the right side of his neck and fled. Rudresh was taken to a hospital wherein he was declared brought dead.'
Delving deeper, it is then envisaged in para 5 that, 'Initially, four accused persons (Accused nos. 1 to 4) were arrested on 27th October, 2016. Accused no. 5 (appellant herein) was arrested on 2nd November, 2016. Subsequently, the task of investigation was entrusted to National Investigating Agency (NIA) by the Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi on 7th December, 2016. NIA registered FIR in RC No. 24/2016 against all five accused persons on 21st April, 2017 which stated that accused nos. 1 to 4 conspired with the accused appellant (accused no. 5) to kill RSS members and in furtherance of their acts, they committed offence punishable under Sections 302, 201 read with Section 34 IPC. The accused persons were said to be in possession of weapons without license, thereby it attracted the offence punishable under Sections 3 and 27 of the Arms Act. Further, the acts of the accused persons including the accused appellant amounted to offences punishable under Sections 120B, 109, 150, 153A, 302, 201 read with Section 34 IPC and under Sections 16(1)(a), 18 and 20 of the UAP Act.'
To put things in perspective, it is then revealed in para 6 that, 'The appellant sought discharge under Section 227 CrPC along with other accused persons which came to be rejected vide order dated 2nd January, 2018 and framed charges against the accused persons including accused appellant. Special NIA Court under its Order dated 2nd January, 2018 while deciding the application of appellant seeking discharge under Section 227 observed that it was admitted by the defence counsel that the appellant is the President of Bengaluru unit of Popular Front of India (PFI) and the other accused persons nos. 1 to 4 are also the members of PFI.'
More damningly, it is then further revealed in this same para 6 that, 'It was also admitted by the defence counsel that there was frequent telephonic/mobile phone conversation among the accused persons nos. 1 to 5 prior and subsequent to 16th October, 2016 (the date of the incident) which gave rise to the Special NIA Court to arrive at a conclusion that the material placed in the charge-sheet on record gives rise to sufficient grounds of subjective satisfaction of prima facie case of alleged offence of conspiracy being hatched among the accused persons. It further observed that the accused appellant has failed to justify the necessary ingredients of Section 227 CrPC and finally held that the matter deserved to be proceeded with framing of charge. The said order came to be affirmed by the High Court on dismissal of the writ petition preferred by the unsuccessful appellant vide its impugned judgment dated 22nd November, 2018.'
On the contrary, it is then pointed out in para 7 that, 'Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, learned counsel for the appellant submits that the impugned judgment has resulted in grave miscarriage of justice and is based on an erroneous interpretation of the factual circumstances of the case and the High Court has not taken into consideration the oral and documentary evidence on record in the proper perspective which has vitiated the entire proceedings and led to gross injustice.'
More pertinently, it is then observed in para 23 that, 'That apart, we have also gone through the relevant record and extract of the charge-sheet placed on record for perusal, the fact reveals that the accused appellant is the President of Bengaluru unit of Popular Front of India (PFI) and the other accused nos. 1 to 4 are also the members of PFI. It reveals from the charge-sheet that there was frequent telephonic/mobile conversation between appellant (accused no. 5) with other accused persons (accused nos. 1 to 4) prior and subsequent to 16th October, 2016 (the alleged date of incident) which persuaded the Court to arrive to a conclusion that there is a prima facie material of conspiracy among the accused persons giving rise to sufficient grounds of subjective satisfaction of prima facie case of alleged offences of conspiracy being hatched among the accused persons and truth & veracity of such conspiracy is to be examined during the course of trial.'
Most pertinently, it is then held in para 24 that, 'After going through the records and the judgment impugned before us in the present facts and circumstances, we find no error in the judgment passed by the trial Court and confirmed by the High Court by the impugned judgment dated 22nd November, 2018 which calls for our interference.'
Needless to say, it cannot be lost on us that it is then enunciated in para 25 that, 'We make it clear that what has been observed by this Court is only for the purpose of disposal of the present appeal and any observations made shall either way not prejudice the rights of the parties during the course of trial and the trial Court may also not to be influenced/inhibited by the observations made by us and proceed with the trial independently in accordance with law.' Para 26 then states that, 'With these observations, the appeal is dismissed.' Lastly, para 27 then concludes by holding that, 'Pending application(s), if any, stand disposed of.'
In a nutshell, it can well be said that the road ahead for the appellant - Asim Shariff is very bumpy and thorny! He clearly failed to get the relief of discharge which he was seeking from the case in which he was accused of various provisions under the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for being involved in the murder of a RSS worker - Rudresh in Karnataka! Also, accused No. 4 has confessed that accused appellant was the mastermind behind the killing of RSS member! He has to now face the law as there is no option now before him! Very rightly so! The famous dictum which states that, 'As you sow so shall you reap' clearly applies on the appellant here!