No prima facie case against Gautam Navlakha, observes Bombay HC, extends protection from arrest

No prima facie case against Gautam Navlakha, observes Bombay HC, extends protection from arrest

Bar & Bench

The Bombay High Court yesterday observed that there is no prima facie case against civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha, implicated in the Bhima Koregaon issue.

The Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre was hearing a plea filed by Gautam Navlakha seeking to quash the case lodged against him by the Pune Police.

After perusing documents submitted by the prosecution against the accused, which included letters recovered from Navlakha’s laptop allegedly written to him by senior Maoist leaders, Justice More remarked,

“There is nothing against him (Navlakha) in any of the letters. We are of the prima facie opinion that there is nothing against him based on the documents submitted to us.”

At the request of the State, the Division Bench posted the plea for further hearing at 3 pm on June 18 and extended the protection from arrest granted to Gautam Navlakha till then.

Along with Navlakha, other activists including Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were booked after the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 that allegedly provoked violence at 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.

The Bench on Wednesday heard arguments by Navlakha’s counsel Yug Mohit Chaudhary and Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Kamat Pai. It examined the documents submitted by the prosecution against Navlakha. These documents include letters written to Navlakha allegedly by senior Maoist leaders including CPI (Maoist) central committee member, Sudarshan.

Chaudhary argued that even if these documents are considered to be true, the letters had no connection with anything related to Maharashtra. He said,

“The prosecution has considered unsigned letters allegedly seized from Navlakha’s laptop as evidence in this case. It is mind-boggling.” 

He listed the credentials of 65-year-old Navlakha as a journalist, peace activist, and as a specialist on conflict zones.

“Navlakha has made democracy possible for those living in the margins. He should be cherished and celebrated for that. On the contrary, the government is persecuting him with charges like waging war against the nation and sedition.

He has earlier worked as mediator for the government of India and he is in contact with Naxals, which is only for his books and fact-finding researches. How can this attract provisions of UAPA?”, Chaudhary asked.

Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Kamat Pai, however, requested that the Court not quash the case, as the investigation was in progress. Other accused persons have surrendered and are on bail. She said,

“We had no chance to arrest him (Navlakha) as the Court stayed his arrest.”

Pai argued that apart from the already presented documents, several other documents were recovered from Navlakha’s laptop that incriminate him. She submitted those documents to the Court in a sealed cover.

After perusing these documents, the Court said that there is nothing secretive about them and that the same can be given to Navlakha. 

“Some of the documents presented in sealed cover are also part of the charge sheet,” Justice Dangre pointed out.

Pai told the Court that she would take instructions from the investigation team as to whether or not the documents could be given to Navlakha.

The investigation officer in the case, who was absent for the hearing on Wednesday, is likely to be present on June 18.

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 same.

On October 1, the Delhi High Court set aside the transit remand order passed by 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 action then moved to the Bombay High Court, which on October 27, granted interim relief against arrest to Navlakha.

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