Bhima Koregaon: NIA argues against Gautam Navlakha’s bail application, State denies him telephonic facility

ON July 22, Special Public Prosecutor for National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’), Prakash Shetty, argued against the bail application of journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The application was being heard before the NIA’s special court in Mumbai, by special judge Dinesh E. Kothalikar.

Navlakha’s advocate, Harshvardhan Akolkar, submitted that Navlakha should be directed to be released on bail on account of the absence of evidence proving Navlakha’s direct involvement in the alleged offence.

While agreeing to the lack of proof of Navlakha’s direct involvement, Shetty highlighted Navlakha’s association with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) – designated as a terrorist organization by the Union Government under the UAPA – through screenshots, speeches, and telephonic conversations. He referred to the quashing petition and anticipatory bail application filed by Navlakha, both of which stood rejected by the courts.

The matter was posted for Navlakha’s reply on July 29.

On July 20, the Maharashtra prison authority told the Bombay High Court that Navlakha could not be allowed telephonic communication from the prison as per a circular signed the state’s Inspector General of Police that provides that undertrial prisoners booked for charges of terrorism or other “serious charges” cannot avail the facility of making telephone calls from the prison.

Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhary, representing Navlakha, submitted that Navlakha is not allowed to avail of the telephonic facility to speak to his partner, a senior citizen residing in Delhi and that denying this facility was in violation of the fundamental right to life with dignity. He further contended that while telephone calls were allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were stopped in December 2021. The plea was heard by a division bench of the high court, comprising Justices Nitin M. Jamdar and Arun R. Pednekar.

State counsel, Sangeeta Shinde, submitted that while prisons allow coin-box facilities twice a week, the same rules do not apply to under trials charged under special laws like the UAPA.

A public interest litigation that seeks to resume telephone and video call facilities in all prisons in the state of Maharashtra is pending to be heard before the Bombay High Court.

Navlakha is a member of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, a Delhi-based organization committed to defend people’s civil liberties and democratic rights, and an editorial consultant for the Economic and Political Weekly, a weekly peer-reviewed social sciences academic journal. Navlakha was arrested in the case on August 28, 2018, for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad-Maoists links case. While he was initially kept under house arrest, he was subsequently sent to judicial custody in April 2020.

In May 2021, the Supreme Court rejected Navlakha’s default bail on the ground that the 35 days he spent under house arrest in 2018 did not constitute custody in order to compute the ninety-day period within which a charge sheet must be filed under criminal law, to entitle him to the same. On October 12, 2021, Navlakha was shifted to the “anda circle” (high security) from the barracks, further deteriorating his health, as claimed by his partner, Sahba Hussain.

On April 26, the Bombay high court dismissed Navlakha’s petition that sought his transfer from the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai to house arrest. On May 23, Navlakha approached the NIA to be provided with a mosquito net, which was previously allowed but taken away by the prison authorities. It is reported that the Navlakha is undergoing medical treatment and the mosquito net 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.

Navlakha is currently lodged in Taloja jail, and is awaiting trial. 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.

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