Bhima Koregaon: Supreme Court extends Gautam Navlakha’s house arrest

The court granted an adjournment in the hearing of the review of its interim order granting house arrest till February 17. Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan sought permission to allow Navlakha to receive an international phone call.

– –

ON Monday, a division bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna, in its review of the interim order granting house arrest to Gautam Navlakha, adjourned the hearing of the matter and extended Navlakha’s house arrest till February 17. The adjournment was granted at the request of the first respondent, namely, the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’), on account of the absence of the Additional Solicitor General of India S.V. Raju, who is representing the NIA.

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 had been lodged at Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai, awaiting trial.

Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing Navlakha, sought permission to allow him to receive an international call, on NIA’s phone, from his daughter living abroad. The bench directed an application to be filed on behalf of the petitioner. As one of the conditions for granting Navlakha’s plea to place him under house arrest, another bench of the court comprising Justices Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, had allowed him to use a mobile phone provided by police personnel on duty once a day for ten minutes in the presence of the personnel.

Earlier, on December 14, 2022, the bench extended the grant of house custody until the second week of January.

On November 10, the division bench comprising Justices Joseph and Roy 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 Navlakha’s house arrest, and directed the house arrest order to be implemented within 24 hours of its pronouncement.

Background

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 90-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 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 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 he was previously allowed but 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, as per a circular signed by the state’s Inspector General of Police that provides that undertrial prisoners booked for charges of terrorism or other “serious charges” cannot make telephone calls from the prison.

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 well over four years in judicial custody without trial. Another accused, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy, passed away in judicial custody in July last year after contracting COVID in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.

The Leaflet