On September 21, Bombay High Court had granted bail to Raut and allowed a stay on the Order for one week to enable the National Investigation Agency to appeal in the Supreme Court.
ON Wednesday, the Supreme Court extended the stay on the Order of the Bombay High Court that granted regular bail to forest rights activist Mahesh Raut by another week.
On September 21, a division Bench of the high court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Sharmila U. Deshmukh had granted bail to Raut and allowed a stay on the Order for one week to enable the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to appeal in the Supreme Court.
Today, a division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M. Trivedi heard the special leave petition filed by the NIA challenging the Order of the high court.
He is currently lodged in the Taloja Central Jail, awaiting trial.
Senior advocate Mihir Desai, appearing on behalf of Raut, submitted that Raut was granted bail after being incarcerated for five-and-a-half years in custody.
Raut was a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a former fellow of the Prime Minister Rural Development Programme of the Union Ministry of Rural Development, Desai added.
Desai emphasised that the Order of the high court is “completely covered” by the Supreme Court’s judgment, dated July 28,granting bail to two other co-accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case— trade unionist and activist Vernon Gonsalves and lawyer and activist Arun Ferreira.
Additional Solicitor General of India S.V. Raju, appearing on behalf of the NIA, contended that Raut is charged with serious offences under the UAPA.
The NIA filed additional documents in support of its petition.
Consequently, the Bench decided to hear the matter next on October 5.
Granting the leave, the Bench directed that the stay granted by the Bombay High Court will continue till the next date of hearing.
Mahesh Raut, a land and forest rights activist, worked with gram sabhas in the mining areas of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra.
On June 6, 2018, Raut, along with five other accused persons, wasarrested for allegedly spreading Maoist ideology, providing funds to banned organisations and conducting recruitments for the Maoists.
InNovember 2019, a sessions court in Pune rejected bail applications filed by the six accused persons. The court noted that prima facie evidence suggested that the acts of the applicants were aimed at undermining democracy in India.
InNovember 2021, an NIA court, while taking note of the submission made by NIA that Raut’s name was found in a letter retrieved from co-accused Wilson’s computer, rejected his bail application.
The submission was opposed by Raut stating that the existence of the letter is disputed on account of forensic reports finding malware infiltration of Wilson’s electronic mail devices.
InApril 2022, Raut approached an NIA court to seek discharge from the charges levied against him in the 2018 case related to allegedly spreading Maoist ideology.
He claimed that the allegations of handling money for the CPI (Maoist) and for assisting students to go to Gadchiroli are based on the two letters obtained from co-accused Wilson’s device, which according to him have been compromised and the evidence tampered with.
Earlier, onMay 4, 2022, the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition that sought review of its earlierDecember 1, 2021 Order under which an appeal for default bail presented by eight accused, including Raut, was dismissed.
Trial is yet to begin in the Bhima Koregaon case. The prosecution has filed a chargesheet exceeding 5,000 pages and intends to cross-examine at least 200 witnesses.
Several of the accused persons have now spent almost five years in judicial custody without trial.
Besides Raut, five of the accused persons, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Dr Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have managed to secure bail so far.
Another co-accused, Father Stan Swamy,passed away due to COVID in custody in June 2021 after incarceration of over seven months. The others remain behind bars.
An investigation by Arsenal Consulting, a leading, independent expert firm on digital forensics, has revealed that sophisticated malware was used to plant the digital evidence that forms the basis for the prosecution’s case on the devices of two of the accused persons in the case, Surendra Gadling and Wilson.