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The Maharashtra government on Wednesday admitted before the Bombay High Court that it has not yet found any incriminating material from the electronic devices recovered from Vernon Gonsalves, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai, appearing for the Pune Police, told the Court that investigators are yet to find anything incriminating against Gonsalves from the computer and other devices recovered from his house a year ago.
Pai submitted that the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report of electronic evidence recovered from Gonsalves’ house has not yet arrived. However, from the clone copies of the material, the State did not find anything incriminating.
A Single Bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal recorded the admission of Pai.
However, Pai went on to submit that the Pune Police have also recovered books, pamphlets and CDs with objectionable titles from a search conducted at Gonsalves’ house. She submitted that the material is sufficient to establish the involvement of the accused.
The Court referred to the material recovered from Gonsalves’ house, which included copies of Marxist archives, Leo Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace, a CD titled Rajya Daman Virodhi Shahiri (poetry against oppression by the State) released by Kabir Kala Manch, and a CD of national award winner documentary Jai Bhim Comrade, among others.
Justice Kotwal asked Senior Counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for Gonsalves, to explain why such material was kept in his client’s possession. The judge also asked him 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). Desai responded,
“Mere possession of such books and CDs does not make one a terrorist.”
Moreover, the Court asked the State why the details of the content in the CDs recovered from the accused were not coming forth in the chargesheet.
“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.”
In response, Pai informed the Court that it was difficult to put all the details, as the police have recovered thousands of CDs and other material from the accused persons. However, she clarified that the State would soon file a report in that regard.
Activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj were arrested last year for their alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
On Tuesday, the hearing began with Senior Counsel Mihir Desai making arguments for Gonsalves. It was his case that there was no direct evidence to incriminate Gonsalves and that he, therefore, deserves to be released on bail.
In this regard, Desai had submitted that his client’s name was not mentioned in the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the. Pune Police. He argued that the prosecution had merely relied on two undated and unsigned letters recovered from the laptop of an accused, which allegedly had mentioned the name of Gonsalves.
“The sum total of evidence against Gonsalves is based on his name mentioned in material found from someone’s computer, that is all,” Desai argued.
The Court will continue hearing the bail applications filed by the three accused on Thursday. The hearing will be conducted on a daily basis.
The three activists were implicated after an Elgar Parishad meeting held on December 31, 2017, had allegedly provoked violence at the Bhima Koregaon village in Pune the next day.
The Bombay High Court on August 8 allowed Bharadwaj to visit her home to attend the last rites of her late father, Professor Ranganath Bharadwaj, in Bangalore for two days.
Last month, the Pune Police made a controversial claim that civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha was in touch with banned organisation Hizbul Mujahideen and Kashmiri separatists. Navlakha had also been arrested over similar allegations of having played a role in provoking the Bhima Koregaon violence.
On July 26, the Bombay High Court reserved its order in a plea filed by Gautam Navlakha to quash the FIR filed against him by the Pune Police.