Bhima Koregaon: Bombay High Court rejects default bail plea of Varavara Rao and seven other accused

THE Bombay High Court earlier today dismissed a petition filed by eight activists, academics and lawyers accused in the Bhima Koregaon (Elgar Parishad) violence case, who sought review of an earlier order which dismissed their appeal for default bail.

A plea seeking default bail was filed by P. Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling.

Their current plea was for a review of the high court’s earlier judgement in December which refused them default bail, while allowing the same for co-accused lawyer and trade unionist Sudha Bharadwaj. Bharadwaj was granted default bail since the Pune Police had not submitted a charge sheet against her within the mandated 90 days’ time period, and though an order granting the police an extension of time was passed, it had not been passed by a special National Investigation Agency court, as required by the law.

These eight accused had filed pleas similar to Bharadwaj’s, but they were rejected. The court’s reason was that while Bharadwaj’s counsels filed her application for default bail on November 26, 2018, the others had filed their applications after the filing of chargesheets. Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves had filed their first such application on May 17, 2019.

Following the December 1, 2021 verdict, the eight accused approached the High Court again on December 21, claiming that the order denying them default bail was based on a “factual error”.

Rao, Gonsalves and Ferriera had informed the court that they had applied for default bail on November 30, 2018, merely four days after Bharadwaj filed her application before the Pune court. In December, they told the high court that the Sessions Court in Pune had refused their default bail applications along with a similar plea by Bharadwaj, in a common order passed on November 6, 2019.

The accused said that it was this November 6, 2019 order that the High Court had set aside on December 1 when Bharadwaj was granted bail. In the present case, filed by advocate R. Satyanarayanan, the three accused — Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves – sought a rectification of this error and subsequent approval of bail.

However, the division bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar noted today that no factual error was made out in the court’s earlier order. The bench observed in its order that “No case for exercise of review jurisdiction is made out.”

Rejecting the plea, the court said that, “A point which was not urged, is impermissible to be reviewed”.

It must be noted that the trial is yet to begin in the Bhima Koregoan case. The prosecution has filed a chargesheet exceeding 5,000 pages and intends to cross-examine at least 200 witnesses. Thirteen of the sixteen accused persons have now spent between one to over three years in judicial custody without trial.

Apart from Bharadwaj, Rao is currently out on interim bail on medical grounds. One of the accused, Father Stan Swamy, passed away due to COVID in custody last year.

The Leaflet