Supreme Court directs Gautam Navlakha to pay INR 8 lakhs as cost of deploying police for his house arrest

The NIA has been directed by the court to file a counter affidavit on Navlakha’s plea for change of place of house arrest to another part of Mumbai.

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ON Friday, the Supreme Court directed Gautam Navlakha to pay INR 8 lakhs towards the cost of deploying police personnel for his house arrest, which was granted to him by the court in November last year.

A division Bench of the court, comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna, heard journalist and human rights activist Navlakha’s application for the change of his place of house arrest to another part of Mumbai, and directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to file a counter affidavit.

Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad Maoist links/criminal conspiracy case, is charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Navlakha was arrested for his alleged involvement in the case on August 28, 2018. While he was initially kept under house arrest, he was subsequently sent to judicial custody in April 2020, and stands accused along with 15 others. He had earlier been lodged at the Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai, and is awaiting trial.

A charge sheet was filed on October 9, 2020; charges are yet to be filed by the court.

On February 17, the Bench allowed the withdrawal of the application filed by Navlakha for the transfer of his place of house arrest from Mumbai to Delhi, since it was not inclined to grant the application. Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing Navlakha, had sought time to search for an alternative place in Mumbai.

Navlakha wished to change his place of house arrest due to the difficulties of staying at the current space where he is under house arrest in Mumbai.

Today, Additional Solicitor General of India S.V. Raju, representing the NIA, opposed Navlakha’s application on the grounds that the new proposed place for house arrest is 110 kilometres from the present location where he is under house arrest. He further raised the concern of ensuring optimum security, since the proposed place is located on a sea shore. Subsequently, the Bench directed the NIA to file a counter affidavit.

Further, Raju submitted that Navlakha needs to deposit INR 66,00,000 towards the cost of the house arrest. According to the terms of the order of the house arrest passed by the court last year, Navlakha had deposited INR 2,40,000 towards the cost of deploying police personnel.

Ramakrishnan raised the contention that the costs were to be incurred on a monthly basis, and questioned the basis on which the calculation of INR 66,00,000 was made. She asked for a break-up of the demanded cost. Urging for the deposit of an ad hoc amount, the ASG said that the initially deposited sum of INR 2,40,000 was not on monthly basis.

Consequently, the Bench directed Navlakha to pay eight lakh rupees towards the cost of being placed under the supervision of police personnel.

Additionally, Ramakrishnan prayed that Navlakha be allowed to go for a walk for an additional 30 minutes in the evening. Raju responded that he has to take instructions from the NIA since four police officers are required to accompany him for such walks. Justice Joseph questioned the need to take such instructions for the purpose of only walking.

On the ASG’s request to grant him time to file a counter affidavit, the matter was posted for further hearing on May 15.

On November 10 last year, another division Bench of the court comprising Justices Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy had 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 had dismissed the petition filed by the NIA to vacate the order granting house arrest and directed the house arrest order to be implemented within 24 hours of its pronouncement.

Since then, his house arrest has been periodically extended by the court.

Background

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, 2022, 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 three to almost five years in judicial custody without trial. Another accused, tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy, passed away in judicial custody in July 2021 after contracting COVID-19 in prison while awaiting bail on medical grounds.

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