ON Thursday, in Gautam Navlakha versus National Investigation Agency and Anr., a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, declined to consider petitioner Gautam Navlakha’s plea to transfer him from Taloja Central Jail, where he is currently lodged, and place him in house arrest for two weeks to enable him to undergo colonoscopy. The court, however, passed an urgent order directing Navlakha to be immediately taken for a thorough medical treatment.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Navlakha, highlighted Navlakha’s medical conditions urgently requiring a colonoscopy examination, and treatment for his poor eyesight. Sibal emphasized that only ayurvedic treatment was available at Taloja.
Sibal submitted that considering Navlakha’s old age of 70 years and the fact that he had not yet been tested by expert medical doctors, he should be allowed two weeks of house custody at his sister’s house in Mumbai to undergo appropriate medical examinations and treatment.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’), submitted that on account of the short notice of the application, he was unable to prepare his reply. He, however, argued that the application did not warrant a case to permit him to remain in house custody. He pointed out that the application filed by Navakha on September 13 prayed for Navlakha’s medical treatment for skin allergy and dental treatment. Opposing Navlakha to be placed in house custody, Mehta urged that Navlakha instead be permitted medical treatment in a hospital.
Sibal vehemently opposed Mehta’s arguments that Navlakha should not be placed in house custody on account of national interest and the threat of destroying evidence pertaining to his alleged offence.
After hearing the arguments, the court observed that Navlakha was an under-trial prisoner and was, more importantly, entitled to his fundamental right to receive medical treatment. Accordingly, the court directed the Superintendent of Taloja Central Prison to immediately take Navlakha to Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai (as per the request of the petitioner) to undergo necessary medical check-ups and treatments.
The court further directed that Navlakha be placed in police custody while receiving medical treatment at the hospital. His partner and sister were permitted by the court to visit him.
The court emphasized that the larger prayers of house arrest and bail remain standing and are not dismissed.
The matter is posed for further hearing on October 21.
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.
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. Earlier, prison authorities had refused his request for a new pair of spectacles, which were given only after media and legal intervention.
The prosecution in the case 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 two to over four years in judicial custody without trial, with one of them, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy, having passed away in judicial custody in July last year after contracting COVID in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.