Bhima Koregaon: Justice Kotwal expresses anguish over incorrect reporting of War and Peace remarks
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Bhima Koregaon: Justice Kotwal expresses anguish over incorrect reporting of War and Peace remarks

Omkar Gokhale

On the third day of hearing of the bail applications in the Bhima Koregaon case, the Bombay High Court expressed anguish at the media’s misinterpretation of its questions on the titles of books seized by the Pune Police from the accused.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal is hearing the bail applications of Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Commenting on media reports which said that the Court raised questions on the accused keeping a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the judge clarified that his comment was not meant for Tolstoy’s book. Justice Kotwal remarked,

“I was reading the list of all books and CDs seized, & even then, didn’t mean that all material was incriminating.

What was reported was disturbing. It was not for me but for the institution of which you (lawyers) also are a part.”

Lawyer Yug Mohit Chaudhary clarified that the remarks were made with respect to a book mentioned in the Panchanama called War & Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy.

Senior Counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for Vernon Gonsalves, concurred with the remarks of the Court.

“All parties present for the proceedings support the Bench,” noted Justice Kotwal, as he continued with the bail hearing in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Yesterday, the Court also referred to the material recovered from Gonsalves’ house, which included copies of Marxist archives, a CD titled Rajya Daman Virodhi Shahiri (poetry against oppression by the State) released by Kabir Kala Manch, and a CD of national award winning documentary Jai Bhim Comrade.

Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough, Bombay HC to State

“Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. You (the State) should have had explained in the chargesheet what is objectionable in the CDs on which you are relying to incriminate the accused,” the Court observed.

Justice Kotwal further remarked: “If the prosecution fails to place on record the content and details of such material, the Court will have to ignore them.”

Justice Kotwal had asked Senior Counsel Mihir Desai to explain why such material was kept in his client’s possession and to establish why the books, pamphlets and CDs recovered from his client’s house are not sufficient to incriminate him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Moreover, the Court had asked state to respond on why the details of the content in the CDs recovered from accused were not detailed in the chargesheet. Justice Kotwal had observed yesterday,

“Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. You (the state) should have had explained in the chargesheet what is objectionable in the CDs on which you are relying on to incriminate the accused.”

Justice Kotwal further remarked, 

“If the prosecution fails to place on record the content and details of such material, the Court will have to ignore them.”

Today, Desai submitted that none of the books seized are banned under Section 95 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and are not sufficient to incriminate the accused. He said,

“Most of the books are available on Amazon and other platforms. The State has not taken any step to get those books banned in the last one year.”

The bail hearing will continue tomorrow. Chaudhary is likely to argue on behalf of Sudha Bharadwaj.

The three activists were implicated after an Elgar Parishad meeting held on December 31, 2017 allegedly provoked violence at the Koregaon-Bhima village in Pune the next day.

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