21 Sep 2023 4:15 PM GMT
Observing that the material against forest rights activist Mahesh Raut couldn’t lead to a prima-facie inference that he had indulged in a ‘terrorist act’ under Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the Bombay High Court granted him bail in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad larger conspiracy case. “We are of the prima-facie opinion that on the basis of...
Observing that the material against forest rights activist Mahesh Raut couldn’t lead to a prima-facie inference that he had indulged in a ‘terrorist act’ under Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the Bombay High Court granted him bail in the Bhima Koregaon – Elgar Parishad larger conspiracy case.
“We are of the prima-facie opinion that on the basis of the material placed before us by the NIA, it cannot be said that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusations against the Appellant is prima-facie true to attract Sections 16, 17, 18, 20 and 39 of UAP Act,” the court of Justices AS Gadkari and Sharmila Deshmukh observed.
The court further noted the 5 years and three months Raut has already spent inside prison without trial.
Raut was arrested in 2018 and charged along with 15 other civil liberties activists. They were accused of having links with the banned CPI(Maoist) and waging a war against the country.
Specifically, the allegations against Raut were that he was a member of CPI(Maoist) and had recruited others in the organisation. Moreover, a letter was found in co-accused Rona Wilson’s laptop wherein it was written that Rs. 5 lakh was handed over to Raut to be handed over to co-accused.
Senior Advocate Mihir Desai for Raut argued that he was highly educated with an MA in Social Work from TISS and also earned an MA in Political Science from a university in Nagpur. Raut was selected for the prestigious Prime Minister Rural Development Fellowship Programme and was allocated to work with the District Collector, Gadchiroli, Desai argued.
Based on his work in Gadchiroli, Raut said he was selected to attend an International Youth Development and Education Programme in July-August 2017 conducted at Brazil. He said there was nothing to corroborate the allegations against his client.
However, the NIA opposed his bail on the grounds of a larger conspiracy to wage war against the country. They cited the statements of witnesses and letters allegedly procured from the hard drive of a Wilson’s laptop.
Regarding the first statement, the bench noted it merely mentioned he was a student of TISS and found in the Gadchiroli forest. The protected witness’s statement claimed Raut and other co-accused were Urban Naxal Members working for CPI(Maoist).
A letter allegedly sent from one comrade Prakash to comrade Rona states that in accordance with party rules in a Grampanchayat meeting, Raut was handed over Rs. 5 lakhs for onward transmission. Another similar communication regarding the Rs. 5 lakh was recovered from the hard-drive of co-accused Surendra Gadling.
The High Court relied on the Supreme Court’s observations while granting bail to co-accused Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferriera. The Court held that since the documents were not recovered from Raut himself. its contents had weak probative value.
“Moreover, the contents of the letters were in the form of hearsay evidence.”
The court observed that there was absolutely no corroboration to the Rs. 5 lakh transaction, to show that Raut even received the money. “Merely because Com. Prakash says that he handed over the said amount to appellant, it ipso-facto does not make Appellant recipient of it, for want of basic corroboration for it.”
The second communication addressed to the co-accused by an unknown person and merely refers to one Mahesh. The court pointed out the existence of a second Mahesh in the movement as well.
“No evidence of any of the persons who are alleged to have been recruited or have joined the organization through the Appellant has been produced on record and brought before us and therefore we are unable to prima-facie accept the contention of Respondent-NIA that, the Appellant has committed the offence relating to recruitment of persons into the said organization,” the bench observed.
Counsel names – Senior Advocate Mihir Desai a/w. Advs Pritha Paul, i/b. Adv Vijay Hiremath for Appellant.
Additional Solicitor General of India Devang Vyas a/w Advocate Sandesh Patil
LL Citation -
Case Title - Mahesh Sitaram Raut vs The National Investigation Agency
Case no. – Criminal Appeal 232 OF 2022
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