Bhima Koregaon: Mahesh Raut’s bail gets entangled in tagging of similar matters

First Section 43D(5) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, then stay on bail, and now ‘tagging of similar matters’ means accused Mahesh Raut cannot liaison with life and liberty. 

ON Thursday, the Supreme Court extended the stay on the Order of the Bombay High Court granting regular bail to forest rights activist Mahesh Raut by two more weeks.

The court allowed the counsel for Raut time to pursue the registry of the Supreme Court to undertake the pending exercise of tagging Raut’s matter with other similar matters in the Bhima Koregaon–Elgar Parishad Maoist links and criminal conspiracy case.

A division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Bela M. Trivedi and K.V. Viswanathan was hearing a special leave petition filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) challenging the Order of the high court.

Mahesh Raut is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).

He is currently lodged in the Taloja Central Jail, awaiting trial.

On September 21 last year, a division Bench of the high court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Sharmila U. Deshmukh had granted bail to Raut, but allowed a stay on the Order for one week to enable the NIA to appeal in the Supreme Court.

Since September 27 last year, the stay has continuously been extended by the court for various reasons.

On January 6, another Bench of the Supreme Court extended the stay on bail granted to journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha on Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju’s request that Navlakha’s matter should be placed along with NIA’s appeal in the case of another co-accused— forest rights activist, Mahesh Raut.

Since the matters were pending before different Benches, the court, directed the registry to place Navlakha’s matter before the CJI to consider posting all similarly placed matters before the same Bench.

The court has extended the stay on Navlakha’s bail till the Chief Justice of India allocates the matter to a Bench.

On January 10, during the hearing of Raut’s bail matter, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Trivedi and Ujjal Bhuyan took notice of the Order dated January 6. The Bench allowed Raut to approach the registry on tagging part-heard matters.

On January 11, the Supreme Court tagged Navlakha’s bail application with academic and activist Hany Babu’s.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court adjourned hearing of the bail application of anti-caste activist and musical performer Jyoti Jagtap once again.

The court reasoned that it was better to hear “part-heard” matters arising out of the same first information report in the Bhima Koregaon–Elgar Parishad case together.

Today, advocate Aparna Bhat, appearing on behalf of Raut, apprised the court of a letter that has been addressed to the registry for clubbing all similarly placed matters before an appropriate Bench.

Bhat submitted that the registry is yet to take action on tagging Raut’s matter with others. Bhat sought time to pursue the registry on placing the matters together.

Allowing a time of two weeks for the clubbing of the matters by the registry, the court adjourned the hearing and directed the continuation of the stay on Raut’s bail.


Mahesh Raut, a land and forest rights activist, worked with gram sabhas in the mining areas of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra.

On June 6, 2018, Raut, along with five other accused persons, was arrested for allegedly spreading Maoist ideology, providing funds to banned organisations and conducting recruitments for the Maoists.

In November 2019, a sessions court in Pune rejected bail applications filed by the six accused persons. The court noted that prima facie evidence suggested that the acts of the applicants were aimed at “undermining democracy in India”.

In November 2021, an NIA court, while taking note of the submission made by NIA that Raut’s name was found in a letter retrieved from co-accused Wilson’s computer, rejected his bail application.

The submission was opposed by Raut stating that the existence of the letter is disputed on account of forensic reports finding malware infiltration of Wilson’s electronic mail devices.

In April 2022, Raut approached an NIA court to seek discharge from the charges levied against him in the 2018 case related to allegedly spreading Maoist ideology.

He claimed that the allegations of handling money for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and for assisting students to go to Gadchiroli are based on the two letters obtained from co-accused Wilson’s device, which according to him have been compromised and the evidence tampered with.

Earlier, on May 4, 2022, the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition that sought review of its earlier December 1, 2021 Order under which an appeal for default bail presented by eight accused, including Raut, was dismissed.

Trial is yet to begin in the Bhima Koregaon case. The prosecution has filed a chargesheet exceeding 5,000 pages and intends to cross-examine at least 200 witnesses.

Several of the accused persons have now spent almost five years in judicial custody without trial.

Besides Raut, six of the accused persons, lawyer and trade union activist, Sudha Bharadwaj; activist, teacher, poet and writer, Varavara Rao; Dalit scholar and activist, Dr Anand Teltumbde; academic and writer, Vernon Gonsalves; human rights activist, Arun Ferreira; and Navlakha have managed to secure bail so far.

Another co-accused, Father Stan Swamy, who was a Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, passed away due to Covid in custody in June 2021 after an incarceration of over seven months. The others remain behind bars.

An investigation by Arsenal Consulting, a leading, independent expert firm on digital forensics, has revealed that sophisticated malware was used to plant the digital evidence that forms the basis for the prosecution’s case on the devices of two of the accused persons in the case, a human rights lawyer, Surendra Gadling and activist and researcher Rona Wilson.

Arsenal’s findings were published in four reports in 2021.

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