Koregaon Bhima case: SC extends protection from arrest to Gautam Navlakha by 4 weeks

 The Supreme Court Tuesday extended by four weeks the interim protection from arrest granted to civil rights activist Gautma Navlakha in the Koregaon Bhima violence case.

However, a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta asked Navlakha to approach the concerned court to seek pre-arrest bail in the case.

When the counsel, appearing for Maharashtra government, objected to the grant of further interim protection to Navlakha, the bench questioned the state as to why they had not interrogated him for over a year.

Koregaon Bhima case: SC extends protection from arrest to Gautam Navlakha till Oct 15

The Supreme Court Friday extended till October 15 the interim protection from arrest granted by the Bombay High Court to civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha in the Koregaon Bhima violence case.

The apex court directed the Maharashtra government to place before it the material collected during the ongoing investigation against Navlakha in connection with the case.

While agreeing to hear Navlakha’s plea challenging the Bombay high court order refusing to quash the FIR lodged against him, a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said that it would hear the arguments on October 15.

The Maharashtra government had earlier filed a caveat in the matter seeking to be heard before any orders are passed.

On September 13, the high court had refused to quash the FIR lodged against him in the 2017 Koregaon-Bhima case and for having alleged Maoist links, noting that there was prima facie substance in the case.

“Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required,” it had said.

The high court had, however, extended the protection from arrest to Navlakha for three weeks to enable him to approach the Supreme Court to file an appeal against its order.

The FIR was lodged against Navlakha and others by the Pune Police in January 2018 after the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 that had allegedly triggered violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune district the next day.

The police has also alleged that Navlakha and other accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards overthrowing the government.

Navlakha and the other accused were booked under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.

Besides Navlakha, four others — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj, are accused in the case.

Maharashtra govt moves SC against HC order ending activist Navlakha’s house arrest

New Delhi:The Maharashtra government Wednesday moved the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order allowing Gautam Navlakha, one of the five activists arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima case, to be freed from house arrest.

The Delhi High Court freed Navlakha from house arrest on Monday, five weeks after he and four other rights activists were arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence in Maharashtra.

The plea challenging the order was filed in the apex court registry Wednesday morning, Nishant Katneshwar, counsel for the Maharashtra government, told PTI.

Granting relief to Navlakha, 65, the high court also quashed the trial court’s transit remand order which he had challenged before the matter was taken to the Supreme Court.

The high court said Navlakha’s detention had exceeded 24 hours which was “untenable”.

The bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, while setting aside the August 28 order of the chief metropolitan magistrate granting Navlakha transit remand, had said there was non-compliance of basic provisions of the Constitution and the CrPC which were mandatory in nature.

The bench also said the trial court order was unsustainable in law.

However, the high court had made it clear that the order will not preclude the state of Maharashtra from proceeding further.

Navlakha was arrested from the national capital by the Maharashtra police on August 28. The other four activists were arrested from different parts of the country.

They were arrested in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave — Elgaar Parishad — held on December 31 last year that had allegedly triggered violence later at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state.

The five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — were put under house arrest on August 29 following an apex court order on the plea by historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala against the police action.

Koregaon-Bhima case: SC refuses to interfere with arrests of five activists

New Delhi:The Supreme Court Friday refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists by the Maharashtra Police in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case and declined to appoint a SIT to probe their arrest.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in a 2:1 verdict, refused the plea seeking the immediate release of the activists.

The bench also extended by four weeks the house arrest of the activists. The five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — are under arrest at their homes since August 29.

The majority verdict said accused persons cannot choose which investigating agency should probe the case, and this was not a case of arrest merely because of difference in political views.

Justice A M Khanwilkar read out the majority verdict for himself and the CJI, while Justice D Y Chandrachud said he was unable to agree with view of the two judges.

Justice Chandrachud, in his judgement dissenting with the majority, said arrest of the five accused was an attempt by state to muzzle dissent, and dissent is symbol of a vibrant democracy.

The Maharashtra police had arrested the activists on August 28 in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave — ‘Elgaar Parishad’ — held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state.

Prominent Telugu poet Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Navlakha from Delhi.

The verdict said the protection of house arrest of the activists will remain in force for four more weeks to enable the accused to seek appropriate legal remedy at appropriate legal forum.

It said arrests were not because of dissent of activists but there was prima facie material to show their link with banned CPI (Maoist) organisation.

The majority verdict disagreed with the PIL by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking the immediate release of five rights activist, with liberty to the accused to seek remedy in appropriate court.

The plea by Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala, had sought an independent probe into the arrests and the immediate release of the activists.

Justice Khanwilkar refrained from commenting on the merits of the case saying it may prejudice case of accused and prosecution.

Justice Chandrachud said liberty cherished by the Constitution would have no meaning if persecution of the five activists is allowed without proper investigation.

He said the petition was genuine and lashed out at Maharashtra police for press meet, distribution of letters to media.

Justice Chandrachud said the court should proceed as if personal practices are essential but whether they are derogatory to liberty, dignity enshrined in Fundamental Rights.

He said letters alleged to be written by activist Sudha Bharadwaj were flashed on TV channels. Police selectively disclosing the probe details to media amounts to casting cloud on fair investigation, he said.

Justice Chandrachud was of the opinion that this was a fit case for appointing an Special Investigation Team (SIT). He said there should be monitoring of the SIT probe by the apex court.

He said dissent is the safety valve in the pressure cooker of democracy and it cannot be muzzled by brute force of police.

When investigation appears to be unfair, the top court must step in, he said and cited the case of wrongful arrest of scientist Nambi Narayan in ISRO spy case.

The apex court had on September 19 said it would look into the case with a “hawk’s eye” as “liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjectures”.

It had told the Maharashtra government that there should be a clear-cut distinction between opposition and dissent on one hand and attempts to create disturbance, law and order problems or overthrow the government on the other.

The court had reserved the judgment on September 20 after counsel for both parties, including senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Harish Salve and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, concluded their submissions.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, Ashwini Kumar and advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the activists, had also alleged that the entire case was cooked up and adequate safeguards should be provided to protect the liberty of the five activists.

The apex court had also said that it may order an SIT probe if it found that the evidence has been “cooked up”.

Koregaon-Bhima case: May order SIT probe if evidence cooked up, SC

The Supreme Court Monday said it may order SIT probe if it found that evidence has been “cooked up” and the material supporting the arrest of the five rights activists in the Koregaon-Bhima violence case needed to be examined.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra extended till September 19 the house arrest of the five rights activists–Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha– at their respective homes and said it would accord a final hearing after two days on the plea of historian Romila Thapar and four others.

“Every criminal investigation is based on allegations and we have to see whether there is some material,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.

“First of all we must have a look at the material. If we find that the material is cooked up, we will set up SIT. … How can we adjudicate against them (Maharashtra police) without hearing them and looking at the material. We will see the materials of the agency,” the bench said.

At the outset, Additional Solicitors General Maninder Singh and Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Maharashtra government respectively, opposed the plea of Thapar and others, saying what were the materials which had created the impression that the lower judicial forum would not hear the accused. 

The bench then said it has granted protection to the accused keeping in mind their liberty and this would continue till the courts below decided their pleas.

“We entertained the case on the foundations of liberty. Issues like independent enquiry…comes at a later stage. Let the accused seek relief below. Meanwhile, our interim order (on house arrest) may continue,” the bench said.

“So far as the problem of ‘Naxalism’ is concerned, it is becoming a bigger problem and has spread throughout the country. That is why I have intervened,” Singh said.

This would set a “dangerous precedent” and “What is the situation or the case which has not been entertained by the courts below and what is that aspect which creates doubt in their minds, that the lower judicial forum won’t hear them,” he said.

Mehta said irrespective of the belief of the petitioners that the arrested accused are human rights activists, there was enough materials, seen by him, against them. 

“This is not about dissent. This concerns serious offences. Your Lordships may not be convinced now, but evidence from laptops, computers, hard disks will show that they were involved,” the law officer said, adding the accused have also resorted to parallel remedies in other courts including the High Courts. 

“Let them (arrested accused) withdraw their respective petitions in the courts as there cannot be parallel proceedings,” he said, adding the “strangers to the lis” have no locus to file the matter and seek remedy in criminal cases. 

The bench said it was not on the point of “locus” of Thapar and the others and the activists could be made parties as it has been done on a “daily basis” in high courts. 

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the historian and others, termed as “pedantic” the objections of the Centre and Maharashtra and said that after the apex court took note of this case, nothing has taken place in other courts below. 

Singhvi said he should be allowed to present the case as it would shock the conscience of the court.

Proceeding with the submissions by referring to documents including the two FIRs, he said the key point that there was a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister was not mentioned in either the FIRs or in the reply filed by the Maharashtra government.

“What we have been hearing that there is a possible attempt to eliminate the Prime Minister. The FIRs and others do not talk about assassination plot,” Singhvi said.

He said after the top court’s observation asking Maharashtra police not to speak to media about the probe, the “spreading of lies has subsided” but not stopped.

“Canard has been spread about criminal past of some of the activists,” he said and gave details about the status of the matters against some of them.

There were 25 cases against Rao and he is either acquitted or the cases have been withdrawn, he said, adding that against Gonsalves, there were 18 cases and he is acquitted in 17 and the appeal is pending in one.

There were either 10 or 11 cases against Arun Ferreira and he has been acquitted in all of them, Singhvi said.

Referring to the violence case, he said two former judges, one of Supreme Court and other of the High Court, were also invited to the event which was being organised for the past 200 years at Bhima Koregaon.

The arrested activists were neither present, nor named in the FIRs, Singhvi said.

The plea by Thapar and economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala has sought an independent probe into the arrests and the immediate release of the five activists. 

The Maharashtra police had arrested the rights activists on August 28 in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave — ‘Elgaar Parishad’ — held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village.

Prominent Telugu poet Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Navlakha from Delhi.