The National Investigation Agency argued that the individual roles of the accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case should not be looked into in isolation from the larger conspiracy.
ON Monday, 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 had averred 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 for Navlakha, submitted that there is no evidence to prove the commission of any violent “terrorist act”.
The term is defined under Section 15 of the UAPA, to attract the charges under Sections16 (punishment terrorist act),17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act),18 (punishment for conspiracy),38 (offence relating to membership of terrorist organisation) and39 (offence relating to support given to a terrorist organisation) of the UAPA.
Today, 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”.
Vyas alleged that according to evidence attached in the chargesheet, Navlakha, along with other co-accused and wanted persons, indulged in a conspiracy to further the ideology of the banned organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI [Maoist]) and to create enmity between groups and communities belonging to different castes and religions.
According to Vyas’s claim, Navlakha was associated with CPI (Maoist) as an active member to further its terrorist activities.
“The overall investigation reveals that there has been a systematic effort [to further terrorist activities],” Vyas argued.
Vyas submitted that the individual roles of the accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case should not be looked into in isolation from the larger conspiracy of the banned CPI (Maoist) to overthrow the government.
It was contended by Vyas that although Navlakha might not be personally involved in any violent terrorist act, in being a member of the CPI (Maoist), he cannot be “disassociated” from the terrorist activities of the banned organisation.
Vyas’ argued that Navlakha’s purported fact-finding mission for research purposes, as claimed by Chaudhry, was, in fact, in the nature of “assignments” instructed and sponsored by the CPI (Maoist) to further its terrorist activities
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.
InMay 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 the90-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.
OnOctober 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.
OnApril 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.
OnMay 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 weregiven only after media and legal intervention.
The Maharashtra prison authority has alsobarred 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 Benchdismissed 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 the16 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.