Taking note of plea of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that there are four accused in the case who are still to be arrested, a bench of Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat asked the agency to take steps to segregate the trial of the 15 arrested accused from the rest by filing appropriate application before the trial court and also declare the other four as proclaimed offenders.
The Elgar Parishad case is based on an FIR which alleged that speeches made at the event in Pune on December 31, 2017, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Koregaon Bhima, contributed to the violence the next day. It was the police’s case that the banned CPI (Maoist) had supported and funded the Elgar Parishad. A separate investigation is looking into the violence at Koregaon Bhima in which one person was killed and many were injured.
Of the 16 accused who were arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, one of them, tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy, died in custody. Two other accused — activist and law teacher Sudha Bhardwaj and Telugu poet Varavara Rao — have been granted bail. While Bhardwaj was granted default bail, Rao has recently been awarded bail on medical grounds.
The apex court in its order said, “The trial court should consider whether charges could be framed against the accused or not and their application seeking discharge be also heard simultaneously… The entire exercise is to be undertaken within three months.”
The court passed the order while hearing the bail plea of Vernon Gonsalves who approached the court challenging the Bombay high court’s refusal to grant him bail. He was arrested on August 28, 2018 and is in custody since then. Senior advocate Rebecca Johnappearing for him, submitted that three statements pertaining to him and those recovered from the laptops of other persons were not incriminating against her client. She said that the statements did not spell out any role of his to implicate him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
John further told the bench that the location of the petitioner and other accused was found to be in Hyderabad at the relevant time, indicating that Gonsalves was not in Maharashtra at the time of the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Opposing his bail plea, additional solicitor general SV Raju, appearing for NIA, told the bench that Gonsalves was earlier also convicted and sentenced to a five-year jail term in a case and continued with his activities after coming out of jail. The ASG blamed the accused in the case for delaying trial and told the bench that multiple applications are being filed by each accused in the trial court, blocking the progress of the case.
The court did not dispose of the bail application of Gonsalves and kept it pending. It posted the hearing in the case after three months in order to pass appropriate order after taking into account the proceedings in the trial court on framing of charges and discharging of the accused.
Further, John pleaded that the apex court direct the NIA to hand over all the documents and electronic evidence to the accused in the case. She said that clone copies of the various electronic devices should be handed over but the court refused to pass an order and asked her to approach the trial court.
The other accused who are involved in the case include — activist Sudhir Dhawale, former Prime Minister’s Rural Development Program fellow Mahesh Raut, retired professor Soma Sen, lawyer Surendra Gadling, Rona Jacob Wilson, Arun Fereira, activist Gautam Navlakha, writer and management professor Anand Teltumbde and Hanybabu Tarayil.
While rejecting bail plea of Gonsalves, Bombay high Court had said that there was sufficient material in the chargesheet against him. “There are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation of commission of the offences punishable under Chapters IV and VI of the UAPA against the applicant is prima facie true. Considering the express bar imposed by Section 43D(5) of the UAPA, the applicant cannot be released on bail. The other argument regarding his achievements in the field of academics and his continued detention in jail for a long period cannot be taken into consideration,” the HC had said.