Bhima Koregaon: Supreme Court dismisses NIA’s application for vacating its order granting house arrest to Gautam Navlakha

The court reaffirmed its order placing Navlakha in house custody, with additional security measures, within 24 hours of the pronouncement of the order.

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ON Friday, a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, dismissed the National Investigation Agency’s (‘NIA’) application to vacate the order of the bench, passed on November 10, which allowed Gautam Navlakha to be placed in house arrest for a period of one month under certain restrictions.

Journalist and human rights activist Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, is charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. During his custody as an undertrial prisoner, a charge sheet was filed on October 9, 2020, and charges are yet to be filed by the court. The petitioner, in custody since April 2020, stands accused along with 15 others. He is currently lodged at Taloja Cental Jail in Mumbai, awaiting trial.

On behalf of the NIA, the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta reiterated his arguments that the medical reports, on the basis of which the relief of house arrest was sought, are vitiated on the grounds of personal bias and suppression of facts. Mehta stressed that the direct relationship between Navlakha and Dr. S. Kothari, a senior doctor at the Jaslok Hospital, where Navlakha was medically examined, is a clear case of personal bias that vitiates the medical report and hence, vitiates the order of the court directing house arrest. He further emphasised that as previously examined by independent medical experts, Navlakha’s condition is manageable within the premises of Taloja.

Additional Solicitor General of India, S.V. Raju, arguing on behalf of the NIA, pointed out that the house suggested for the purpose of Navlakha’s house arrest is not a residential unit. It was his contention that since the house in question is part of the public library, it was not fit to be housed by a person suffering from illness. He further submitted that the building with the public library was chosen to allow him easy access to meet people.

Raju argued that the house has two entrances, and the second entrance was deliberately not informed to the court. He highlighted that the CCTV on the second entrance was installed only after it was pointed out by the NIA. The collapsible grills on the window allow access for any person to enter, Raju claimed. Further, he noted that the building, where the house is situated, is in the name of the Secretary of the Communist Party of India (‘CPI’).

Raju claimed that Navlakha has misled the court regarding the location of the house arrest. In his submission, Raju contended that a series of suppressed and misled statements were made by the Navlakha, and hence, he does not qualify to be granted house arrest.

Since the court had previously dealt with the arguments on age, illness, and treatment at Jaslok hospital, the arguments were dismissed. On the arguments of location and security of the house, Justice Roy observed that Navlakha was directed to be placed under house arrest solely after due investigation by the NIA. “With the might of the State, you are not able to keep a 70-year-old ailing man under confinement?”, he remarked.

Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing Navlakha, highlighted an affidavit filed by him before the Bombay High Court that provided that the reason for his insistence on being treated by Jaslok Hospital were the abject conditions in the quarantine barracks of Taloja. She also pointed out that the affidavit mentions the connection of the hospital with his sister, which was known by the court and the NIA.

On the issue of the house and its location, Ramakrishnan stated that the house in question has been used as a residential unit. She also pointed out that the CPI, as pointed out by Raju, is a recognised political party. The political affiliation of the owner of the building should not bar the premises to be used for house arrest, she argued. Ramakrishnan brought to the court’s attention that Navlakha had previously surrendered himself to the NIA after he was given a notice of one month.

After hearing the parties, the division bench accepted further concerns of the NIA to ensure security. Accordingly, it directed that the designated space between the kitchen door leading to the entrance be sealed, and the collapsible grills of the windows were directed to be locked. Further, the DVR that is used to monitor the CCTV was directed to be moved from the public library to the place of choice of the NIA.

Dismissing the petition filed by the NIA to vacate the order granting Navlakha’s house arrest, the court directed the present order to be implemented within 24 hours of its pronouncement.

The next date to review the order of house arrest is December 13.

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 are presently incarcerated, having now spent between two to over four years in judicial custody without trial.

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