Bombay High Court.

Bhima Koregaon: Bombay High Court reserves order on default bail plea by Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves

ON Tuesday, a division bench of the Bombay High Court constituting Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar decided to reserve its order on the application filed by three of the accused — poet and activist P. Varavara Rao, academic and activist Vernon Gonsalves, and human rights lawyer and activist Arun Ferreira — in the Bhima Koregaon (Elgar Parishad) case. Their plea sought a review of the court’s earlier judgement in December which refused them default bail while allowing the same for co-accused lawyer and activist 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 [NIA] court as required by the law.

Similar pleas had been filed by eight other accused persons in the case, including the present three applicants, but these were dismissed by the High Court.

The reason given for this was that while Bharadwaj’s counsels filed her application for default bail on November 26, 2018, the others are said to have filed their applications after the filing of chargesheets. The three applicants reportedly filed their first such application on May 17, 2019.

Following that verdict, the eight accused approached the High Court again on December 21, 2021, 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 made 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. Advocate Sudeep Pasbola, lawyer for the accused, submitted before the court that their co-accused Sudha Bharadwaj was granted bail arising out of the basis of a common order by the Pune sessions court, which also included the names of Rao, Gonsalves and Ferreira. That order rejected statutory bail for all of them; moreover, the date of the arrests of all the four accused was common. Thus, Pasbola argued that they were all at par with each other.

Meanwhile, the NIA’s lawyer, advocate Sandesh Patil told the court that such a review petition would be barred by law, since the accused’s plea sought a change or review of the final judgement. The NIA’s counsel submitted that it would not be possible to allow alteration of an observation that was finalised by the High Court, after proper verification of records and hearings.

Patil also said that if the applicants’ prayers were granted, then the entire judgement’s view would be “substituted” and “not corrected”adding that the accused, by doing so, were bringing a new case instead.