The National Investigation Agency has also claimed that the perception of resistance from members of the banned organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist) against Navlakha was deliberately created.
ON Wednesday, a division Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Shivkumar Dige continued hearing the bail application filed by journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha.
On March 2 this year, the high court haddirected the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court to rehear the bail plea for its reconsideration.
The court hadaverred that a special NIA court had rejected Navlakha’s September, 2022 bail application without proper reasoning.
On April 6 this year, after adjudicating and reconsidering the submissions, the special NIA court had againdenied bail to Navlakha.
On June 12, the high courtissued a notice to the NIA on Navlakha’s fresh bail application.
During the previous hearing, on August 4, advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry, appearing on behalf of Navlakha, had submitted that the evidence cited contradicts the allegations made by the NIA since it shows that the banned organisation, Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)] itself has heavily criticised Navlakha for his alleged involvement with the government.
On August 7, the Additional Solicitor General of India (ASGI) for Bombay High Court Devang Girish Vyas, representing the NIA, argued that besides the charges under the UAPA, other serious offences such as Sections120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code “assume greater significance”.
On Wednesday, Vyas took the court through the materials cited by the NIA, allegedly proving Navlakha’s links with CPI (Maoist).
Vyas referred to documents that allegedly show that there was opposition from certain members of the CPI (Maoist) to invite him as the main speaker to an event organised by the banned organisation.
According to Vyas, the document fails to prove that Navlakha was not a member of the CPI (Maoist). Through call detail records, mobile locations and other forensic evidence it can be proved that Gautam attended that event, Vyas claimed.
According to Vyas, the perception of resistance from members of CPI (Maoist) against Navlakha was created to further the propaganda and agenda of CPI (Maoist) to involve people who can appear neutral. A systematic effort was carried out to further a larger conspiracy of CPI (Maoist), thus, proving a common intention, Vyas submitted.
Further, Vyas referred to witness statements and other documents and letters recovered from other co-accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case that allegedly prove Navlakha’s association with CPI (Maoist).
Vyas particularly referred to a letter allegedly indicating CPI (Maoist)’s intention of causing “large-scale mobilisation and chaos”, which shows the nature of the activities in which Navlakha was involved.
Additionally, it was Vyas’s contention that the purported fact-finding missions undertaken by Navlakha were sponsored by the central committee of the CPI (Maoist) to further its ideology.
The matter is posted for further hearing on August 24.
Navlakha was arrested 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.
During his custody as an undertrial prisoner, a chargesheet was filed on October 9, 2020; charges are yet to be filed in the court.
In May 2021, the Supreme Court rejected Navlakha’s default bail on the ground that the 35 days which he spent under house arrest in 2018 did not constitute custody in order to compute the 90-day period as provided under Section 167(2)(a)(i) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
According to the Section, the chargesheet should be filed within 90 days from the day the accused is arrested, failing which he is entitled to default bail.
On October 12, 2021, Navlakha was shifted to the ‘anda circle’ (high-security zone) from the barracks at Taloja, further deteriorating his health, as claimed by his partner, Sahba Hussain.
On April 26 last year, the Bombay High Court dismissed Navlakha’s petition that sought to shift him 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 he was previously allowed but which was subsequently taken away by the prison authorities.
Earlier, prison authorities had refused his request for a new pair of spectacles, which were given only after media and legal intervention.
The Maharashtra prison authority has also barred Navlakha from availing telephonic communication facilities in Taloja.
This was done in accordance with a circular signed by the state’s inspector general of police that provides that undertrial prisoners booked under charges of terrorism or other “serious charges” cannot make telephone calls from the prison.
On November 10 last year, the Supreme Court allowed Navlakha to be placed under house arrest for a period of one month under certain restrictions.
On November 19, after hearing and incorporating further concerns of the NIA, the Bench dismissed the petition filed by the NIA to vacate the Order granting house arrest.
The court directed for the house arrest Order to be implemented within 24 hours of its pronouncement.
The prosecution in the case has filed a chargesheet exceeding 5,000 pages and intends to cross-examine at least 200 witnesses. Eleven of the 16 accused persons are presently incarcerated, having now spent between two to almost five years in judicial custody without trial.
Another accused, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, passed away in judicial custody in July 2021 after contracting Covid in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.