Additional Solicitor General of India Devang Girish Vyas, representing the NIA, argued that as an active member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Mahesh Raut recruited members and received funds to further its activities, and he was a participant in the Elgar Parishad event that had led to violence.
ON Monday, a division Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Sharmila U. Deshmukh continued hearing the bail plea of forest rights activist Mahesh Raut.
He is currently lodged in Taloja Central jail, awaiting trial.
The bail application, filed in 2022, challenges the rejection of bail pleas by a sessions court in Pune in 2019 and a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai in 2021.
During the hearingyesterday, senior advocate Mihir Desai, appearing for Raut, took the court through the material cited by the NIA as evidence against Raut.
Desai sought parity with judgments granting bail to other co-accused persons— Dalit scholar, academic and activist, Dr Anand Teltumbde; trade unionist and activist, Vernon Gonsalves; and lawyer and activist, Arun Ferreira.
Today, Additional Solicitor General of India Devang Girish Vyas, representing the NIA, argued that the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)] conducts its activities in a structured manner with a core team, an armed wing and members.
It was argued by Vyas that CPI (Maoist) undertook ‘fact-finding missions’ that, in fact, propagated their ideology.
Vyas alleged that the propaganda was part of a larger conspiracy to topple the current democratically elected government of India by use of force or by creating hatred in certain sections of the society against the State.
As per Vyas, the Elgar Parishad was a part of this larger conspiracy to systematically attack the State by using a certain community.
To substantiate this claim, Vyas referred to a letter recovered from the electronic device of Rona Wilson where the State is allegedly referred to as the “enemy”.
Vyas claimed that Raut is a member of CPI (Maoist) who caused the Bhima Koregaon incident that resulted in violence and death of people.
According to Vyas, the evidence relied upon by the NIA proves that he is an active member of the CPI (Maoist) and that he participated in the event organised by the Elgar Parishad.
Vyas stated that the evidence against Raut also proves that he allegedly recruited people to station them in forests in furtherance of the activities of CPI (Maoist).
On the allegation that Raut had received funds from the banned party, Vyas pointed to a letter recovered from the electronic device of activist and researcher, and member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners Rona Wilson— a co-accused in the Bhima Koregaon case— that says one “Comrade Mahesh” had received funds from the party.
Vyas raised the contention that electronic devices were not used for communication to avoid being under surveillance. Messages between the members of CPI (Maoist) are sent by letter or delivered in person, Vyas claimed.
Referring to the allegedly incriminating letters against Raut, Vyas also claimed that Raut assumed the identity of one ‘Rohit Verma’ to not be identified as himself during interception.
With the conclusion of arguments on both sides, the matter is reserved for judgment on September 21.
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 CPI (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.
Five of the accused persons, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Dr Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have managed to secure bail so far.
Another co-accused, Father Stan Swamy, passed away due to COVID in custody in June 2021 after 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, Surendra Gadling and Wilson.