The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed a plea filed by Bhima Koregaon accused Gautam Navlakha to be shifted from jail to house arrest for a month. (Gautam Navlakha vs National Investigation Agency and anr)
Navlakha has to deposit an amount of ₹2.4 lakh as expenses for his security cover when he is under house arrest, a bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy ordered.
"We would thus think that he should be allowed to be placed for house arrest for a period of one month. There will be armed escorts to monitor that there is no misuse of the house arrest," the Court ordered.
The Court also directed that Navlakha shall not be permitted to use computer, internet or any other communication device while under house arrest.
"The petitioner will, however, be permitted to use the mobile phone which may be provided by the police personnel on duty once in a day. The conversation will be permitted only for a period of 10 minutes. The conversation will be allowed in the presence of the police personnel. Otherwise, the petitioner would not use a mobile phone or any other phone including that of the companion," the Court directed.
It, however, said that television and newspapers will be allowed in the house provided they are not internet based.
"Petitioner shall not allowed be allowed to leave Mumbai/Navi Mumbai. Petitioner shall be allowed to meet two family members for 3 hours every day," the Court further directed.
The Court also ordered that there should be CCTVs at entrance exit and and outside the rooms of the residence.
"The CCTVs installed shall be maintained in working condition throughout and should not be off at any point," the order said.
Navlakha moved the top court after the Bombay High Court dismissed his plea on April 26.
Navlakha, a former Secretary of the People's Union for Democratic Rights, was arrested in August 2018, but was initially placed under house arrest.
He was later moved to Taloja Central Prison in Maharashtra in April 2020 after a Supreme Court order.
Relying upon the Supreme Court judgment in his default bail case, Navlakha moved the High Court pointing out that he was being denied basic medical aid and other necessities in Taloja and was suffering great hardships at his advanced age.
A Bench of Justices SB Shukre and GA Sanap, however, rejected the plea prompting the appeal before apex court.
Yesterday, the top court had asked the NIA to inform it of restrictions sought during house arrest in the event the instant plea is allowed.
At today's hearing, Additional Soilicitor General SV Raju submitted that the medical records relied on by the petitioner were prepared by a team consisting of his brother-in-law. Accordingly, a fresh medical assessment was sought.
The ASG also pressed for CCTV cameras within all rooms to be part of the restrictions placed, apart from not being allowed to contact witnesses.
Justice Roy expressed the Bench's disagreement with the former, with the top court judge pointing out how the ASG had earlier relied on the same reports to say mattresses will be provided to Navlakha in jail.
"You are trying to make an argument of prejudice, his [doctor who is the brother-in-law] was one of many specialists' opinions. If one of them is related will it make the report biased? Please be responsible with your arguments."
When the ASG kept repeating this submission, Justice Roy further remarked,
"Give us the indulgence that we have understood your submissions. Please do not repeat it. Unless you have some concern that we have diffculty understanding you."
The ASG then submitted that a platoon of security officers, funded by the petitioner, may be directed to be stationed outside the place of house arrest.
Justice Joseph then said, "You are asking for so much for a 70-year-old."
Later on in the hearing, the Bench suggested that 3 police personnel be stationed in 8-hour shifts, which the counsel for the NIA and Maharashtra government agreed to.
On the aspect of the CCTV cameras, the Bench stated that it would have to maintain the right to privacy of the petitioner and his companion. It took into account the fact the Navlakha had acted as an interlocutor appointed by the government to negotiate with Maoists to release kidnapped security personnel.
"It is unlikely that the case will make any progress towards culmination in the foreseeable future, with charges not being framed. The petitioner has been in custody for two years. There appear to be no, prima facie, complaints regarding his earlier house arrest."
The order notes that the names of counsel allowed to visit Navlakha will be furnished within three days. The judges also directed that a local surety of Rs 3 lakh be paid.
"Any deviation or misuse [of the house-arrest terms] by the petitioner or his companion shall be viewed strictly upon being brought to the notice of this Court, and may entail cancellation of the house arrest."
The judges noted that the age of the appellant was far from perfect given the multiple ailments at his age, and accordingly observed,
"As far as the criteria of age is concerned, we are a little mystified as to why the High Court has proceeded on the basis that the petitioner does not fulfill the criteria."
[Follow our coverage of today's hearing]