“This is a matter that may take one or two minutes,” a Supreme Court bench had remarked while adjourning a Delhi riots case on July 12. The “matter” in question was the bail plea of activist and former JNU scholar Umar Khalid — incarcerated since September 2020 under charges of the UAPA and criminal conspiracy in the Delhi riots case.
After a lapse of nearly two months and five adjournments, the top court has allowed Khalid a “last opportunity” for his bail plea hearing next week. Out of the seven times the plea was listed before the court, it was dropped from the cause list once, and adjourned five times for varied reasons: the court’s inability to hear the plea, a judge recusing himself, a delay in filing response by the Delhi Police and even Khalid’s own lawyer’s unavailability.
Arrested over allegations of being a “mastermind” of the riots, Khalid has been discharged in matters involving stone pelting, but awaits bail in the larger conspiracy case lodged under the UAPA. The activist moved the top court in April this year after he was denied bail by the Karkardooma Court in March 2022 and the Delhi High Court in October 2022.
The five adjournments have come despite the Supreme Court’s emphasis on acting “promptly” in matters pertaining to the liberty of citizens. Merely a month after the first listing of Khalid’s plea, the top court also observed that bail matters should be heard “quickly”, and “hearings should be short and precise”.
Here’s a timeline of the progress, or lack thereof, on Umar Khalid’s bail plea at the Supreme Court:
May 18: As the matter came up in the Supreme Court for the first time on May 18, a bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli a notice to the Delhi Police over the bail petition. While the court granted Khalid liberty to approach the vacation bench, his counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said that they would wait for the matter to be heard after the Supreme Court’s summer vacation. The bench thus gave Delhi Police six weeks to file a response.
July 12: After a period of six weeks, as the bail plea came up in the Supreme Court, the Delhi Police sought more time to file its reply. Khalid’s lawyer argued that he had been in jail for more than two years now, and questioned why a reply was needed in a bail case.
Delhi Police’s counsel replied saying the chargesheets against Khalid ran to thousands of pages. Subsequently, the court granted 12 more days to the Delhi Police to file its response. As the police’s lawyer remarked that the decided day, July 24, was a Monday and could be a heavy day, the bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh said that the matter would only take a minute or two.
July 24: The matter was due to be heard on July 24, when Khalid’s lawyer sought adjournment. A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Bela M Trivedi adjourned the hearing by one week in light of the counsel’s letter.
August 9: Ahead of the hearing of Khalid’s bail plea before a bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Prashant Kumar Mishra on August 9, the latter recused himself from the hearing. The matter was adjourned to August 17, set to be taken up by another bench.
August 17: The petition was in the cause list for August 17, but before the bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Prashant Kumar Mishra again, even though the latter had recused himself from the hearing. The matter was dropped from the cause list and was not heard.
August 18: The bail plea came up before a bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi on August 18. The judges said the matter will have to be heard on a non-miscellaneous day, when lengthy hearings take place.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are non-miscellaneous days, when regular hearings are held. Mondays and Fridays are miscellaneous days, when fresh matters are taken up.
September 5: Khalid’s bail plea came up again today but was adjourned due to the unavailability of his lawyer Kapil Sibal – who was present before another bench of the Supreme Court that was hearing the pleas contesting the abrogation of Article 370.
The bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Dipankar Dutta remarked that Sibal is known to be busy and the court doesn’t wait for any senior counsel. But they agreed to adjourn the hearing to next week as the “last opportunity” to hear the plea.