Gautam Navlakha is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon–Elgar Parishad Maoist links and criminal conspiracy case under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. He has been an undertrial prisoner for almost three years. He is currently under house arrest.
ON Wednesday, a division Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Shivkumar Dige heard a fresh bail application filed by journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha.
The Bench also directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to file its reply. The NIA counsel told the court that the reply would be filed by this evening or tomorrow.
On March 2 this year, the high court had directed the special NIA court to rehear the bail plea for its reconsideration. The court had averred that the special NIA court that had rejected Navlakha’s bail application on September 5, 2022 had done so without proper reasoning.
On April 6, after adjudicating and reconsidering the submissions, the special NIA court had again denied bail to Navlakha.
On June 12, the high court issued a notice to the NIA on Navlakha’s fresh bail application.
Today, the Bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 25.
Navlakha was arrested on August 28, 2018, for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad–Maoists links case. While he was initially kept under house arrest, he was subsequently sent to judicial custody in April 2020.
During his custody as an undertrial prisoner, a chargesheet was filed on October 9, 2020; charges are yet to be filed in the court.
In May 2021, the Supreme Court rejected Navlakha’s default bail on the ground that the 35 days he spent under house arrest in 2018 did not constitute custody in order to compute the 90-day period within which a chargesheet must be filed under criminal law to entitle him to bail.
On November 10 last year, the Supreme Court allowed Navlakha to be placed under house arrest for a period of one month under certain restrictions.
On November 19, after hearing and incorporating further concerns of the NIA, the Bench dismissed the petition filed by the NIA to vacate the Order granting house arrest and directed the house arrest order to be implemented within 24 hours of its pronouncement.
The prosecution in the case has filed a chargesheet exceeding 5,000 pages and intends to cross-examine at least 200 witnesses. Thirteen of the 16 accused persons are presently incarcerated, having now spent between two to almost five years in judicial custody without trial.
Another accused, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy, passed away in judicial custody in July 2021 after contracting COVID in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.