Bhima Koregaon case: NIA special court rejects default bail application of five accused

EARLIER today, the default bail applications of human rights lawyer and Dalit rights activist Surendra Gadling, activist and researcher Rona Wilson, women’s rights activist and professor Shoma Sen, activist Mahesh Raut, and activist, actor and publisher Sudhir Dhawale, co- accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, were rejected by a Special National Intelligence Agency (‘NIA’) court in Mumbai.

On December 1 last year, the Bombay High Court allowed the default bail plea of lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj in the Bhima Koregaon case under Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code read with Section 43D(2) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (‘UAPA’), 1967. While granting bail to Bharadwaj, however, the high court rejected the default bail applications of eight other accused, namely, Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Raut and Sen, along with poet, activist and writer P. Varavara Rao, trade unionist, academic and actisits Vernon Gonsalves, and activist and lawyer Mahesh Raut. All the nine accused were charged under the draconian UAPA.

Bharadwaj was granted default bail since the Pune Police had not submitted a charge sheet against her within the mandated 90 days’ time period. Though an order granting the police an extension of time was passed, it had not been passed by a special NIA 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.

The court had said, “Resultantly, a crucial condition of ‘availing of’ the right so as to cement it as an indefeasible right, has not been fulfilled and the right stood extinguished by the filing of the charge-sheet on 21st February 2019. Failure to take cognizance or defect in the jurisdiction in taking cognizance, once the charge sheet was laid, does not entail the consequence of default bail.”

On May 4, the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition filed by the eight co-accused, who sought review of the court’s earlier order of December 1, 2021.

Apart from the rejection of the default bail application, the court, on Tuesday, heard the advocate for human rights activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha, another of the accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case, argue for providing a mosquito net to Navlakha during day time. He submitted that Navlakha’s old age and the cost of ointments necessitated that the prison authorities allow him the use of mosquito nets. NIA’s counsel opposed this, raising contentions of security threats.

The judge of the special NIA court heard the arguments and reserved the matter for order on July 7, 2022.

On May 23, Navlakha had approached the NIA to be provided with a mosquito net, which was previously allowed to him but later taken away by the prison authorities. It is reported that the Navlakha is undergoing medical treatment and the mosquito net is as per the recommendation of the doctors. Earlier, prison authorities had refused his request for a new pair of spectacles, which were given only after media and legal intervention.

It is to 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 16 accused persons have now spent between one to over three years in judicial custody without trial, with two – Rao and Bharadwaj – currently out on bail, and one – Roman Catholic priest and tribal rights activist Fr. Stan Swamy – having passed away in custody in July last year due to contracting COVID-19 and undergoing rapid deterioration in health while in custody for over nine months.

The Leaflet