Bhima Koregaon: Bombay High Court rejects bail plea of Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira

Bhima Koregaon: Bombay High Court rejects bail plea of Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira

Omkar Gokhale

The Bombay High Court has today denied bail to activists and lawyers Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira arrested in Bhima Koregaon case and for their alleged links with banned Maoist group. The Court rejected the bail pleas of all three accused.

After hearing the arguments at-length for over a month, the Bombay High Court, today pronounced orders on bail applications of activists and lawyers Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj, and Arun Ferreira.

A Single Judge Bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal had been hearing bail pleas of three accused on a regular basis since August 27. The Court had reserved its orders on October 7.

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.

The accused were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other penal provisions in August last year. A Special Judge in Pune rejected their bail applications in October last year, prompting the trio to move the Bombay High Court.

The Court noted that the Communist Party of India ( Maoist) was banned in June after it was included in the Schedule of the UAPA vide notification dated June 22, 2009. Rejecting the bail pleas of all three accused, Justice Kotwal observed that the investigating agency has material to show prima facie that the applicants are senior active members of the banned organization.

It was further noted that Pune Police has material which prima facie shows that applicants were part of the ‘larger conspiracy’ and had abetted it.

In view of this, a Single Bench observed,

“State armed forces were treated as ‘enemy forces’. One of the important tasks was recruiting cadres and there is material in charge-sheet to show that prima facie applicants had actively worked towards fulfilling that responsibility.”

Moreover, the Court said that the investigation agency has material to show prima facie that Sudha Bharadwaj was on important committees of the banned CPI (Maoist). Justice Kotwal further said that submissions regarding her (Bharadwaj) academic record, achievements, social work, family background, health issues and her continued detention in jail for a long period cannot be taken into consideration.

Relying on material produced by the prosecution, the Court also observed that Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were prima facie involved in recruiting cadres for the banned Maoist group.

Facts sufficiently establish prima facie that the applicant (Vernon Gonsalves), on instructions of the banned organization, was recruiting cadres from the institutions like TISS,” said Justice Kotwal.

Referring to charge-sheet filed by Pune Police, the Court observed that Ferreira was actively working on a task ‘to raise, manage and distribute the funds’ for banned party.

At this stage, there is sufficient material with the prosecuting agency to enable the Court to form an opinion that the accusations against the applicant are prima facie true,” Justice Kotwal held and rejected bail pleas of all three accused.

On October 1, beginning her arguments by opposing the bail pleas, Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) Aruna Pai for Pune Police had claimed that accused Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were involved in recruiting cadre for banned Naxal group Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Furthermore, Pune Police, on October 3 had argued that all three bail applicants including trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj were members of four organizations allegedly acting as frontal groups of banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

As per the prosecution, these organizations include Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC) and Anuradha Gandhi Memorial (AGM).

Pune Police also relied on the National Investigation Agency (NIA) v. Zahoor Ahmed Shah Watali authored by Justice AM Khanwilkar of the Apex Court.

In this regard, APP Pai had submitted that the judgment in Zahoor Ahmed holds that the admissibility of the documents submitted by the prosecution would have to be considered at the time of trial.

It further provides that while deciding bail application under the UAP Act, the degree of satisfaction to be recorded by the Court to decide the reasonable grounds that the accusation against the accused is prima facie true, is lighter than the degree of satisfaction to be recorded for considering a discharge application or framing of charges.

APP Pai was responding to the arguments made by the lawyers of the bail applicants that had concluded on September 24. While Vernon Gonsalves was represented by Senior Counsel Mihir Desai, advocates Yug Mohit Chaudhry and Sudeep Pasbola appeared for Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira respectively.

Advocate Sudeep Pasbola had also submitted that there is no incriminating evidence against his Ferreira produced by prosecution. He had argued that the Police had booked Arun Ferreira for assisting co-accused Surendra Gadling, who was representing activist and Delhi University professor G N Saibaba, booked for having Maoist links.

Moreover, the court was told by advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry that civil rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj was implicated merely because she was an office-bearer of the IAPL.

In this regard, Chaudhry had submitted that the Pune Police had failed to produce any material to establish her involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case, even though it has been over a year since Bharadwaj was jailed.

Moreover, on the first day of the bail hearing on August 27, Senior Counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for accused activist Vernon Gonsalves had argued that there was no direct evidence to incriminate Gonsalves and that he, therefore, deserves to be released on bail.

Earlier, in a setback to civil rights activist and co-accused Gautam Navlakha, the Bombay High Court on September 13, had turned down his plea seeking to quash the First Information Report (FIR) filed against him by the Pune Police in the Bhima-Koregaon case.

Thereafter, on October 4, the Supreme Court extended the interim protection granted to Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case till October 15. Navlakha has moved the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of the FIR against him.

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