A Pune Court has dismissed the bail applications filed by Sudha Bharadwaj,Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, who are under house arrest in relation to FIR registered by Maharashtra police for alleged Maoist links in Bhima-Koregaon violence.
The Special Judge K D Vadane of the UAPA Court rejected the bail applications observing that "material collected by the investigating officer, prima facie, reveals involvement of the accused". It was further observed that investigation was at a very crucial stage and therefore the accused were not entitled to be released on bail at this stage.
The case has genesis in Crime registered by Vishrambaug police on complaint by one Tushar Damgule that the speeches and songs performed by 'Kabir Kala Manch' at the "Yalgaar Parishad" meeting held in Pune on December 31, 2017, instigated violence in the Bhima-Koreagaon parade held on January 1, 2018. As per police version, they arrested five persons - Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Davale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut- on June 6 as part of investigation into Bhima Koregaon case. In search carried out on their electronic devices, the police unearthed incriminating materials which linked the present applicants to banned Maoist organization. Therefore, offences under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act were added in the FIR. On August 28, Bharadwaj, Gonsalves and Ferreira were arrested along with Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha.
The counsel for the applicants submitted that they were renowned human rights activists, who were espousing the causes of marginalized persons. It was submitted that they were not present in the Yalgaar Parishad meeting, and denied having any relation with banned organizations. They termed the police version as concocted, and contended that they were being targeted for having an ideology different from the ruling party. It was also argued by them that there were glaring procedural violations in arrest and search. It was pointed out that panch witnesses were government officials who accompanied Maharashtra police to various cities from where the activists were arrested. Arrest and search had no local witnesses, and were hence vitiated- they argued.
The District Government Pleader opposed the application stating that several incriminating materials, including letters and electronic communications, were recovered during search which pointed their nexus with banned organizations. It was submitted that the accused persons recruited students of elite universities to banned organizations, and that they were involved in a conspiracy against Government of India to achieve the objects of Maoist organizations. They were involved in mobilizing men, money and arms for Maoists, submitted the Government Pleader.
The Special Judge observed that the judicial yardstick for consideration of bail application is whether the prosecution has made out a prima facie case against the accused, which was present in the case. The Judge observed that from the material collected in investigation "prima facie it appears the link between the accused with banned organization and its activities".
Though the Special Judge observed that "the investigating officer conducted irregularity while conducting panchnama", it was held that it cannot be a ground to allow bail applications. Relying on SC decisions, it was observed that irregularities in search procedure will not vitiate the entire investigation. The judge also noted that the panchnama was videographed and hence the contention of accused cannot be accepted.
The accused placed reliance on Delhi High Court's decision in Gautam Navlakha's case, which quashed his transit remand. However, the Special Judge observed that the decision was not relevant for consideration of bail application.
The Special Judge justified application of UAPA charges against the accused observing "material collected during investigation cumulatively shows that alleged acts of accused, which travel beyond gravity of mere disturbance of public order of even 'virulent nature' and may at time even transcend the frontiers of the locality and may include such anti national activity which may throw a challenge to the very integrity and soverignity of the country and its democratic polity(sic)".
The counsel for the applicants pointed out that in the FIR registered by Pimpri police against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ektobe, who allegedly initiated violence during Bhima-Koregaon parade,the accused were released on bail. Therefore, they sought for similar benefit in this case as well. However, the Judge rejected the argument stating that both cases were different.
Judge Vadane also observed in the order that it was premature to consider the arguments of applicants that the incriminating letters were bogus and fabricated.
It may be noted that on September 28, the Supreme Court had dismissed by 2:1 majority the PIL filed by Romila Thapar and few others seeking SIT probe in this case. While CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar rejected the prayer for SIT probe expressing confidence in Maharashtra police, Justice Chandrachud dissented, noting that Maharashtra police was not fair and impartial in investigation. The Court however ordered that the five activists who were arrested by Police on August 28 will be kept under house arrest for four more weeks, and that they can seek other legal remedies against custody in the meantime.