The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 12 May, dismissed a petition filed by activist Gautam Navlakha against a Bombay High Court order rejecting his plea for statutory bail in the Bhima Koregaon violence case.
The Bench comprised Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph, who noted that there was “no statutory bail” in this case.
The Bombay High Court, which had rejected his plea on 8 February, saw no reason to interfere with a special court’s order which earlier rejected his bail plea.
A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court had passed an order rejecting Navlakha’s bail plea on 12 July 2020. Navlakha subsequently moved the Supreme Court on 19 February.
As per the police, some activists allegedly made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements at the Elgar Parishad meet in Pune on 31 December 2017. This allegedly led to violence at Koregaon Bhima village the next day. Senior activists, such as Stan Swamy, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, poet Varavara Rao, Professor Hany Babu, among others, as well as lawyers and artists are part of this case.
Sixty-nine-year-old Navlakha has been lodged at the Taloja Central Jail since 25 April 2020. He has been seeking statutory bail under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on the ground that the NIA did not file the charge sheet within the stipulated 90-day period, making him entitled for grant of default bail.
However, the NIA claimed that the period of 34 days of Navlakha’s house arrest between 29 August and 1 October 2018 was termed “illegal” by the Delhi High Court, which is why it could not be included in the period of detention.
Over the course of hearing, the Bench sought to know whether the two-day transit period to take Navlakha from Delhi to Mumbai, as well as the period for which he was under house arrest, would be part of the 90-day remand period.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for Navlakha, had argued that the police had all the time to interrogate Navlakha while he was in custody.
He added that the orders passed by the High Court granting him interim protection did not mean that the police could not interrogate him.
A Bench, comprising Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik, of the Bombay High Court had rejected the plea on 8 February on the ground that the period for which an accused is under illegal detention cannot be taken into account while computing the 90-day custody period for grant of default bail.
The High Court had held – when authorisation by the Magistrate to keep Navlakha under house arrest was declared illegal by Delhi High Court – the detention itself was rendered illegal, that period will not be part of the custody period for grant of statutory bail under Section 167 CrPC.
There have been reports of jail inmates testing COVID positive. A 22-year-old inmate recently succumbed to the virus, while his family alleged negligence.
Earlier, poet-activist Varavara Rao, who was recently given bail on medical grounds, had complained against the health facilities at the Taloja jail, where he was lodged.
Rao had stated in an affidavit submitted to a court that there were only three Ayurvedic practitioners to address the health issues faced by the inmates and that there are no staff nurses, pharmacists or medical specialists to attend to the prisoners at the Taloja prison hospital, The Wire reported.
(With inputs from Bar & Bench and The Wire)
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