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Religious conversion cases: SC grants bail to VC of UP's agriculture university

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New Delhi, Apr 1 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Monday confirmed its interim order of granting bail to Rajendra Bihari Lal, vice chancellor of Uttar Pradesh's Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS), in connection with two criminal cases pertaining to offences including that of alleged illegal religious conversions.

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“Don’t we have some concern about the personal liberty of the subject," a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud asked while questioning the delay in a hearing on the bail application of Lal by the Allahabad High Court.

While issuing the notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on the bail plea of Lal, the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, had granted interim bail to him on March 4 in connection with two FIRs lodged at police stations Nawabganj and Naini in Prayagraj.

“We are confirming the interim bail order passed by us on March 4,” the CJI said, adding that Lal will have to cooperate with police in the pending investigation in one of the FIRs.

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“We also felt that the state (police) is taking extra interest in this case,” the CJI orally observed while refusing to allow a separate plea of the state government that the March 4 order granting interim bail to the accused be recalled on the ground of suppression of certain facts.

It noted that Lal was arrested in one of the cases on December 31, 2023 and his bail plea was not heard in the high court for a substantial period of time.

The bench noted that the charge sheet is filed in one of the two cases on the conclusion of investigation.

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The cases against Lal concern offences under sections 307 (attempt to murder) , 504 (intentional insult with an aim to provoke breach of peace) and 386 (extortion) of the IPC. He was also booked under some provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, appearing for Lal, submitted that the petitioner was arrested despite the apex court's order.

The Uttar Pradesh Police had earlier told the top court that Lal and other accused are the “main perpetrators” of a mass religious conversion programme which involves foreign funds from about 20 countries.

The police had said Lal, among the other accused in the case, was actually a “notorious criminal” involved in 38 cases of various nature, including cheating and murder, across the state in the last two decades.

It was alleged in the police complaint that about 90 Hindus congregated at the Evangelical Church of India in Hariharganj, Fatehpur, for the purpose of their conversion to Christianity and were put under undue influence, coercion, and lured through fraud and the promise of easy money. PTI SJK PKS SJK KVK KVK

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