Posted On May 29, 2020
The High Court was scheduled to hear Navlakha’s bail application on May 27, but he was moved to Taloja Jail in Mumbai.
The Delhi High Court on Wednesday criticised the National Investigation Agency for its “unseemly haste” in moving activist Gautam Navlakha from Tihar Jail in the national Capital to Taloja Jail in Mumbai, when his bail application was pending, The Indian Express reported. Navlakha is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.
The Delhi High Court had ruled on May 22 that the prosecution must submit its status report in the case by May 26, and the next hearing would be held on May 27. On May 23, the NIA applied for an extension of Navlakha’s remand by a month. Subsequently, his custody was extended till June 22.
However, the following day, the investigation agency obtained from a special court in Mumbai an order for Navlakha’s production at the court. Navlakha was moved on May 26. On Wednesday, the High Court said this was done without informing either the NIA special judge in Delhi or the judge in Mumbai about the pendency of Navlakha’s bail application.
Ramakrishnan said that the “only purpose for which the NIA has taken such hasty actions is to render the present proceedings infructuous and to take the applicant out of the jurisdiction of this court”. She also submitted that Navlakha was exposed to serious health risk.
On this, Justice Bhambhani observed, “on May 22, 2020 Mr. Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General had informed the court that the NIA was planning to transfer the applicant to Mumbai sometime soon in view of opening-up of air travel after obtaining orders from the competent court…”.
“…considering evident haste shown by NIA by moving applications across Mumbai and Delhi over weekends and gazetted holidays and obtaining orders by email, and ‘whisking away’ the applicant to Mumbai as it were, and thereby rendering the present proceedings infructuous, it is deemed necessary to call for the presence of the Investigating Officer of the case from NIA, Mumbai by video-conferencing to answer certain factual queries…,” it said. Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi appeared for NIA, as did Vikram Khalate, the IO for NIA in Mumbai.
The court recorded in its order, “Mr. Khalate explains that it was learnt that the lockdown was reopening for inter-state flights on May 25, 2020 and being unsure of the future course of events in relation to the lockdown, he moved an application on May 23, 2020 for issuance of production warrants.”
The court directed Khalate to submit copies of proceedings in Mumbai and Delhi and medical reports of Navlakha. The matter will be heard on June 3.
“While ordinarily this court would not see too much cause for hurry in this case, in view of the inexplicable, frantic hurry shown by the NIA in moving the applicant from Delhi to Mumbai while this matter was pending and the NIA had itself sought time to file status report, this court does get a sense that all proceedings in this jurisdiction would be rendered utterly infructuous if an element of of urgency is not brought to bear on the present proceedings,” the High Court said, according to PTI. In other words, the court said that if the case was not handled with urgency, its orders in the matter would be entirely meaningless.
Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Shetty argued that the Mumbai court had issued a production warrant against Navlakha, as his case was being heard in that city. However, Navlakha’s lawyers said they should have been informed and given an opportunity to be heard, before he was shifted.
People’s Union for Democratic Rights criticises NIA action
The People’s Union for Democratic Rights expressed shock at the NIA suddenly transferring Navlakha. “The application made by the NIA before the court is not available and it cannot be ascertained whether the Mumbai Court was informed of the interim bail matter to be heard on 27 May in the context of his health and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” PUDR said. “The order was sent to the Tihar jail superintendent for further action.”
PUDR alleged that the proceedings at the special court in Mumbai took place without the presence of any lawyers of the accused. It said at least one person has died of the novel coronavirus at Taloja Jail. It said that according to news reports, Taloja Jail authorities decided to keep Navlakha in a quarantine centre nearby for 14 days.
“The account provided above makes it amply clear that this action of undue haste by the NIA to transfer Gautam Navlakha to Mumbai can only be viewed in the context of his pending interim bail plea to be heard on 27 May,” PUDR said. “The hastiness finds no basis since neither was his presence required before the court in Mumbai in any proceeding on any forthcoming date, nor did the police require him for custodial interrogation.”
The organisation said that the whole incident makes the bail application Navlakha filed meaningless.
Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune, called the Elgar Parishad, was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.
On April 14, following Supreme Court orders, activists Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde surrendered before the NIA.
Navlakha and Teltumbde have been charged under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, following the violence at Bhima Koregaon village. The case subsequently made by the Pune Police accused Navlakha and Teltumbde of Maoist links and was later taken over by the NIA.