Relief for Bhima Koregaon accused Gautam Navlakha as SC paves way for house arrest

The 70-year-old activist cannot use a mobile phone, Internet, or laptop while he is under house arrest but the top court has permitted him to use a mobile provided by cops once a day for 10 minutes.
Activist Gautam Navlakha and his partner Sehba Hussain at their residence. (File photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)
Activist Gautam Navlakha and his partner Sehba Hussain at their residence. (File photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

NEW DELHI: Bhima Koregaon accused Gautam Navlakha breathed a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court on Thursday paved the way for his house arrest.

Taking into consideration Navlakha's age and health condition, the fact that he has been in jail since 2020, and that the trial is unlikely to progress in near future, and that he does not have any criminal background, and the fact that even the Government of India had appointed him as interlocutor to hold talks with Maoists, the bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said the order for house arrest will be reviewed in one month and should be implemented within 48 hours.

The court asked the National Investigative Agency (NIA) and the state of Maharashtra to carry out the evaluation of the premises where Navalakha will be placed under house arrest and ordered him to deposit Rs 2,40,000 to the Commissioner of Police, Navi Mumbai, as an expense to be incurred by the state in providing police security.

"Respondents will be free to deploy police personnel to ensure that there is no misuse of the facility of house arrest. We have already indicated the expenses to be paid to the escort. CCTV will be installed at the expense of the petitioner at the entrance and outside of the rooms. Entry, exit and outside the rooms. CCTV shall be in working condition. House will be screened prior to him occupying the house," the court said in its order.

Meanwhile, Gautam Navlakha's partner Sahba Husain on Thursday expressed happiness over the Supreme Court order. Husain told PTI, "We are happy even if it is for a month. The order says he will have to be in Mumbai. We have seen certain places."

The SC has also asked Navlakha to not use any mobile phone, Internet, laptop or any other communicating device while he is in house arrest but has permitted him to use a mobile which will be provided by police personnel once a day for 10 minutes.

Navlakha cannot leave Mumbai but can meet two family members once a week for three hours.

Additionally, the bench has asked him to not make an attempt to influence any witnesses in the case or commit any illegal activity.

He has although been granted permission to walk in the presence of police personnel which is subject to him not engaging in any conversation with anyone.

"He will be permitted to interact with the lawyers and he will have to give the names of the lawyers," the order says.

The court permitted his companion to use a mobile phone which has the facility of only making phone calls but has also granted liberty to the probe agency to carry out surveillance and recording of phone calls made by her. "Companion shall not delete details of a phone call or message," the court has further ordered.

The court's order came after a plea by Navlakha challenging the Bombay HC's ruling of refusing to grant him the relief of house arrest.

Appearing for Navlakha, senior advocate Kapil Sibal contended that he is 70 years old and has been battling multiple health issues.

Additional Solicitor General (SSG) SV Raju appearing for the NIA submitted that the medical report on the basis of which the court was proposing to grant him the relief was tainted. Urging the court to order an independent assessment, the ASG said that the board of doctors that examined Navlakha included his brother-in-law.

Taking exception to the ASG's contention, the bench said, "This is an opinion by five-six special doctors. Would a related doctor give a wrong report? Such an argument can't be. You have to be responsible. Yesterday you said you have no problem giving a cot, mattress. One person can't poison the minds of others."

However, to allay the probe agency’s apprehensions, the bench has asked the NIA to obtain a fresh medical report from KEM Hospital prior to the next date of hearing.

The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.

The Pune Police had alleged that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.

The police had registered an FIR on January 8, 2018 under the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) later took over the probe in the matter.

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