The matter will now be taken up next week by a bench that does not comprise Justice Datta
ON Thursday, Justice Dipankar Datta recused himself from hearing the bail pleas of civil liberties activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. The matter will now be taken up by a bench that Justice Dutta is not a part of.
Gonsalves, who is an academic and writer, having written extensively on Dalit and adivasi rights and the rights of prisoners, and Ferreira, a lawyer and human rights activist, who has been a member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights and the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers, are accused in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
A Supreme Court division bench, comprising Justices Ravindra Bhatt and Datta, was hearing petitions filed by Gonsalves and Ferreira, challenging the rejection of their bail applications by the Bombay High Court.
Senior Advocate Rebecca John, representing Gonsalves, urged for the listing of the matter for a short next date. The matter will now be taken up next week for hearing.
According to reports, John previously argued that the allegedly incriminating documents against Gonsalves were not recovered from him but from other accused persons. In view of the absence of any connection or independent witnesses, she submitted that such documents cannot be used against him.
On August 28, 2018, Gonsalves, Ferreira, and other activists in different cities, were arrested for allegedly being affiliated with banned Maoist organisations, and provoking violence at Koregaon Bhima. In October 2019, the Bombay high court dismissed their bail applications, at which point they had been lodged at Yerwada Central jail for over 14 months.
In December 2021, the Bombay high court rejected bail applications of Gonsalves, Ferreira and six others accused in the case. On May 4, 2022, the high court dismissed the petition that sought a review of its earlier December 1, 2021 order.
In view of the revelations related to the Pegasus spyware, Gonsalves, like other accused persons in the case, requested a Supreme Court-appointed Technical Committee to direct the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’) to hand over his phone for inquiry to the committee to check for infection by the malware.
On August 22, 2022, a special NIA court rejected an application filed by Ferreira that sought direction for the prosecution to provide a copy of the formal order of the interception by which his emails (electronic evidence) were intercepted. Ferreira argued that the interception of his emails, as retrieved by the NIA within an hour of being sent and used as evidence, stands illegal.
Gonsalves and Ferreira are still lodged at the Taloja Central Jail, and are awaiting trial.
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 well over four years in judicial custody without trial. Another accused, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy, passed away in judicial custody in July last year after contracting COVID in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.