Bhima Koregaon: Four accused move special NIA court in Mumbai seeking discharge application

AFTER the youngest accused in the Bhima Koregaon (Elgar Parishad) case, Jyoti Jagtap of the Kabir Kala Manch [KKM] filed an application on Wednesday seeking discharge, more accused have approached the National Investigation Agency [NIA]’s special court seeking discharge from all the charges imposed against them in the 2018 case.

Among the other accused, scholar, writer and activist Anand Teltumbde, activist Mahesh Raut, and activist and publisher Sudhir Dhawale sought discharge from charges in the Bhima Koregaon violence case. 

The septuagenarian Teltumbde sought discharge by noting in his plea that NIA had not yet produced any material before the court to actually prove that he was a member of the banned Communist Party of India [CPI] (Maoist).

Moreover, his plea, filed by advocate R. Sathyanarayan, states that contrary to the NIA’s allegation that he was a member of the banned Maoist organization, one witness cited by the NIA itself in its supplementary chargesheet had mentioned the book titled Anti-Imperialism & Annihilation of Castes’, authored by Telumbde. He noted that this book was itself a critique of Maoist ideology and acted as proof that he was a critic of the same.

Teltumbde also addressed the NIA’s allegations that he was an official member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights [CPDR] and of the Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Committee [AGMC], supposedly “frontal organizations” of the CPI (Maoist). In his plea, he said that the agency had not brought forth any evidence to show that these were indeed “frontal organizations” and they had not been notified in this category as per the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA] or any other anti-terror legislation. 

Teltumbde also pointed out that an alleged exchange of mails between the co-accused did not establish any grounds for the charges slapped against him. The NIA’s allegations against him were based on a letter by one Prakash addressed to one “Comrade Anand” (presumed to be Teltumbde) to discuss the issue of funding. Regarding questions of funds, the accused scholar pointed out the failure on part of the agency to carry out a proper probe to verify if he had actually received the funds as mentioned in the letter. He also told the special NIA court presided by Judge D.E. Kothalikar that the letter in question was not recovered from him but from his co-accused, activist and researcher Rona Wilson.

Thus, Teltumbde sought to be discharged from all offences charged against him by the NIA. He also prayed for the deletion of arbitrarily defined offences under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18, 18A, 18B and 20 of the UAPA (all these sections lay out types of punishments for different categories of terrorist activities).

Meanwhile, co-accused Dhawale filed a discharge plea on Thursday, after the NIA opposed the discharge application for young Jagtap. The court is expected to hear their pleas on May 4. Dhawale submitted that he was among the first to be arrested on June 6, 2018, and that the first information report against him was lodged only eight days after he attended the Elgar Parishad event. 

Dhawale told the court that his speech called for protecting democracy and for a peaceful resistance, therefore being in accordance with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as per the Indian Constitution. The activist also contended that the present case was registered against him merely because he called upon others not to vote the Bharatiya Janta Party back to power.

Meanwhile, advocate Vijay Hiremath, on behalf of Raut, told the court that no case was made out against his client either under the Indian Penal Code or the UAPA.

A Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow and forest rights activist, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences graduate Raut was arrested in 2018 by the Pune Police. In his application for discharge, he responded to the NIA’s claims of having handled money for the CPI (Maoist) and for having assisted students to go to Gadchiroli. Raut stated that the basis of such allegations were two letters obtained from co-accused Wilson’s device which he said had been compromised, and evidence tampered with.

His lawyer also told the court that when the devices were seized by the agency, no measures were taken under the Indian Evidence Act or the Information Technology Act to ensure the authenticity of the evidence on record, and to prevent tampering or alteration.

The Leaflet