Bail to PFI Members set aside

Supreme Court: In a batch of criminal appeals filed by the Union of India through National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’), Chennai against the Madras High Court’s decision granting bail members of the Popular Front of India, the Bench of Bela M. Trivedi* and Pankaj Mithal, JJ. allowed the appeal and directed the accused persons who were alleged of anti-National activities, to surrender before the NIA forthwith. The Court set aside the impugned decision.


The Counter Terrorism and Counter Radicalisation (CTCR) Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs on receiving credible information that the office bearers, members and cadres of Popular Front of India (PFI), an extremist Islamic organization were spreading its extremist ideology across Tamil Nadu, established State Headquarters and other offices, through their frontal Organizations like Campus Front of India, National Women’s Front, Social Democratic Party of India etc., were conspiring for committing terrorist acts, raise funds for committing terrorist activities and recruit members for furthering their extremist ideology, and that the frontal organizations and PFI were involved in the recruitment of members to various prescribed terrorist organizations, directed the National Investigation Agency to take up investigation of the said matter. Subsequently, an FIR was registered under Section 120(b), 153(A), 153(AA) of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and Section 13,17,18,18(B), 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1957 (‘UAPA’). After arrest of the officer bearers of the PFI and other members (‘accused persons’), respective bail applications were filed before the Special Court under the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008 (‘NIA Act’) dismissed the said bail applications on prima facie case made out against the accused persons.

In appeal against the said order, the High Court allowed the said appeals by the common impugned order dated 19-10-2023, releasing the accused persons on bail. Hence, the present set of appeals was filed by the Union of India through NIA, Chennai.

Analysis and Decision

The Court on perusal of the chargesheet noted that the offences alleged against the accused persons were under Section 120-B, 153-A, 153-AA of the IPC and Section 13, 17, 18, 18A,18B, 38 and 39 of the UAPA. The Court said that since all offences alleged against the accused persons were covered under Chapter IV and VI of the UAPA, the rigors and restrictions of Section 43-D (5) would apply to the facts of this case. Placing reliance on NIA v. Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, and Gurwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 109 wherein guidelines were framed and discussed for Court’s dealing with bail applications under the UAPA Act. On the basis of the same, the Court tested whether there were reasonable grounds for believing that accusations against the accused persons were prima facie true.

The Court on perusal of the chargesheet and statements of witnesses and the incriminating documents collected during the course of investigation, noted that the prosecution witnesses had stated about the activities of PFI like radicalizing youth for recruitment, Arms training (knife, sword and use of petrol bombs/inflammable substances) and preparatory act for commissioning of terrorist activities. The PFI’s ideal of an Islamic State and about providing support to ISIS was also stated. The conspiracy hatched by the members of the PFI and particularly the role of one of the accused person for creating an Islamic State by the year 2047 through an armed struggle against the Government of India, was also stated about. The Court discussed the role of all the accused persons distinctly.

The Court noted that it was alleged that, though the PFI was projecting itself as an organization fighting for the rights of minorities, dalits and marginalized communities, it was pursuing a covert agenda to radicalize particular section of the society and to work towards undermining the concept of democracy and integrity of India; had an agenda to convert India into an Islamic State and for the said purpose, trainings were conducted. The Court said that there was sufficient material in the form of statements of witnesses and other incriminating evidence in the form of digital devices, books, photographs etc. collected during the course of investigation, to form an opinion that there were reasonable grounds for believing that the accusations against the accused persons were prima facie true.

The Court reiterated from Watali’s case (supra), that the material/evidence collated by the Investigating Agency in reference to the accusation against each of the accused concerned in the chargesheet would prevail until rebutted, contradicted and overcome or disproved by other evidence. The question of discarding the material or document at the stage of considering the bail application of an accused, on the ground of being not reliable or inadmissible in evidence, is not permissible. The Court must look at the contents of the documents and take such documents into account as it is and satisfy itself on the basis of broad probabilities regarding the involvement of the accused in the commission of the alleged offences for recording whether a prima facie case is made out against the accused. The Court clarified that at the stage of considering the bail applications of the accused persons, the Court is merely required to record a finding on the basis of broad probabilities regarding the involvement of the respondents in the commission of the alleged offences.

Hence, upon considering the good and sufficient evidence and witnesses, the Court said that the High Court had committed gross error in not considering the material/evidence in its right and proper perspective and in recording a perverse finding to the effect that there was no material to suggest the commission of any offence. Further, the Court said that the present accused persons were in custody hardly for one and half years and some of the accused persons were also involved in previous cases, which are about 8 to 9. Therefore, the Court opined that considering the nature and gravity of the alleged offences and considering their criminal antecedents, and in light of sufficient material to show their prima facie involvement in the alleged offences under the UAPA, the High Court should not have taken a lenient view.

“National security is always of paramount importance and any act in aid to any terrorist act — violent or non-violent is liable to be restricted.”

Thus, the Court allowed the appeals, set aside the impugned order passed by the High Court and directed the accused persons to forthwith surrender themselves before the NIA. Since, the chargesheet was already submitted before the Special Court, the Special Court was directed to proceed with the trial as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with law, without being influenced by any of the observations made by the Court in this order.


2024 SCC OnLine SC 1019

Appellants :
Union of India

Respondents :

Advocates who appeared in this case

For the appellant:
Advocate Rajat Nair, Adv. Srishti Mishra, Adv. Satvika Thakur, Adv. Mr Raman Yadav, Adv. Sakshi Kakkar, Adv. Sarthak Karol, Adv. Annam Venkatesh, AOR Arvind Kumar Sharma

For the respondents:
Sr. Adv. S Nagamuthu, Adv. A Nowfal, AOR Rizwan Ahmad, Adv. Shaikh Saipan Dastgir, Adv. Javed R Shaikh, Adv. Shereef Ka, Adv. Arpit Jacob, Adv. Devansh A.mohta, AOR A. Selvin Raja, Adv. A.raja Mohamed, Adv. V. Shahira Banu


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