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In a setback to civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha, the Bombay High Court today turned down his plea seeking to quash the First Information Report (FIR) filed against him by the Pune Police in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Navlakha is accused of having links with banned Naxal groups.
However, the Court extended the interim protection from arrest granted to him for three weeks, so that he may appeal before the Supreme Court.
A Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre pronounced its judgment on Friday. The verdict was passed based on the Court’s prima facie observations following the perusal of various material submitted by the prosecution. The materials so perused include several letters exchanged between CPI (Maoist) members, a critical report on Navlakha written by a CPI (Maoist) member allegedly elaborating on the “deep rooted involvement” of Navlakha in the party, and a copy of the Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution, in addition to documents submitted by the State in a sealed envelope.
Based on this material, the Court conceded the there was sufficient material for the investigating agencies to continue probing the case against Navlakha. In this regard, the order states,
“… we are satisfied that the investigating agency has material to connect the Petitioner in the subject crime. The investigation is still in progress.Considering the nature and magnitude of the conspiracy, in our opinion, the investigating agency is required to be given sufficient time to unearth the evidence against the Petitioner especially when the scope of investigation is not restricted to Bhima-Koregoan incident but activities leading to the incident and subsequent activities as well are the subject matter of investigation. On the basis of material placed before us for our perusal, we are of the considered opinion that this is not the case where the registration and investigation of the crime is without any basis or case of complete absence of material against the Petitioner.
Therefore, we cannot accede to the prayers of Petitioner. Petition is without any merit and the same is accordingly dismissed.“
The Court, however, made note to emphasise that the observations made in this order are only of a prima facie nature, and that they should not influence the trial court’s decision in the matter.
“By way of precaution, we make it clear that the observations herein in this order are prima facie in nature and made for the limited purpose of deciding the issue raised in this writ petition, and the trial Court or any other Court shall not be influenced by the observations made in this order. “
The Court had reserved its order in Navlakha’s plea on July 26, while also directing that the interim protection from arrest given to him will continue.
During the course of hearing on July 26, Justice More had observed that some of the documents given by police indicate that Navlakha is innocent, whereas other documents may need an investigation.
Appearing for Navlakha, advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry had contended that Navlakha was not a member of the banned Maoist group, Communist Party of India (Maoist), as claimed by the Pune Police.
Chaudhry submitted that Navlakha cannot be implicated under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) based on evidence produced by the Pune Police in the form of letters allegedly recovered from the laptops of Navlakha and the other co-accused.
To this submission, Justice Dangre had pointed out that Section 13 of the UAPA also penalises the advocating, abetting and advising of unlawful activities.
On July 24, the Pune Police, represented by Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, made a controversial claim that Gautam Navlakha was in touch with the banned organization Hizbul Mujahideen and Kashmiri separatists.
The Pune Police had also argued that Navlakha was associated with urban activities of the banned Communist Party (Maoist) and that he has helped in strengthening the party cadre.
Gautam Navlakha and four other 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.
Navlakha was booked under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Sections 121, 121 (a), and 124 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), amounting to waging a war against the State, conspiring to commit certain offences against the State, and sedition.
On June 12, after perusing documents submitted by the prosecution, Justice More had observed that there is no prima facie case against Gautam Navlakha.
The prosecution subsequently submitted more documents to the Court in a sealed cover. After perusing them, the Court has said that there is “nothing secretive” about these documents and that the same could be given to Navlakha. However, the Pune Police refused to reveal the same to Navlakha.
Gautam Navlakha had earlier moved the Delhi High Court soon after he was arrested on August 28 last year. In his Habeas Corpus petition, Navlakha had challenged the manner of his arrest and the subsequent transit remand order passed by the CMM.
The matter had even reached the Supreme Court in September. The Court had stayed the arrest of Navlakha and four other activists, and later extended the stay.
On October 1, last year, the Delhi High Court set aside the transit remand order passed by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM), Delhi. The State of Maharashtra then filed an appeal against this order in the Supreme Court. While keeping the matter pending, the Apex Court had asked the Bombay High Court to expeditiously deal with Navlakha’s petition seeking to quash the FIR filed against him.
The matter then moved to the Bombay High Court, which on October 27, granted interim relief against arrest to Navlakha.
[Read the Bombay High Court order]