'No Incriminating Material Found Against Me' : Bhima Koregaon Accused Vernon Gonsalves Tells Supreme Court Seeking Bail
To deny bail on the basis of the little evidence that the centre has against Bhima Koregaon-accused Vernon Gonsalves was a ‘stretch’, said senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing on behalf of the jailed activist. “There is no evidence,” said John, after taking the court through the documents on which the National Investigation Agency relied. She added:
“Four people have been granted bail in this case. Sudha Bharadwaj was granted statutory bail by the Bombay High Court, which was affirmed by this court. Varavara Rao was granted bail on medical grounds by this court. Gautam Navlakha was released from jail and put under house arrest because he was not doing well. And there is Anand Teltumbde who was granted regular bail on merits by the high court, later upheld by this court. The petitioner seeks parity with these. If there is no material, not granting bail is a stretch, particularly when the court granted bail to co-accused who had more evidence against them.”
A division bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia was hearing the bail applications of Gonsalves and a co-accused, Arun Ferreira, both of whom have been lodged in jail since August 2018 for offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. They were arrested in connection with the 2018 caste-based violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Pune, and for having alleged links with the proscribed far-left outfit, Communist Party of India (Maoists).
Besides emphasising that the order passed by the Supreme Court confirming the bail granted to another co-accused, Anil Teltumbde, by the Bombay High Court was squarely applicable to Gonsalves’ application, John also questioned the adequacy of the evidence on the basis of which he has been incarcerated for almost five years. The senior counsel claimed that the Gonsalves’ name did not even feature in almost all the documents that formed the basis for the centre accusing him of conspiring to overthrow the lawfully established government, and the couple of documents that mentioned him had neither been written by him, nor recovered from his device, nor tested for authenticity.
She also informed the court that Gonsalves had been acquitted in all the other cases in which he was implicated, apart from the first one. In the first case, he was convicted for being a member of an ‘unlawful association’ under Clause (i) of Sub-section (a) of Section 10 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, and for ‘advocating, abetting, advising, or inciting’ the commission of an ‘unlawful activity’ under Clause (b) of Sub-section (1) of Section 13 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. “Even at the time of conviction, Gonsalves had already served out his sentence in the only case in which a conviction was made. His appeal is currently pending at the Nagpur High Court,” the senior counsel said.
After permitting John to provide a brief conspectus of the facts, the bench decided to adjourn the hearing till Wednesday, March 1, since the Additional Solicitor-General for India, appearing for NIA, was unavailable. Senior Advocate R. Basant, representing Ferreira, said, “After Ms John is done with her argument, she will have covered the evidence against both Vernon and Arun. I will not have much to argue and will just make a couple of short submissions.”
Gonsalves and Ferreira have approached the Supreme Court against a December 2021 order by which the Bombay High Court denied them default bail, even as the same benefit was granted to another co-accused, Sudha Bharadwaj. Even though this order was questioned in a subsequent review petition preferred by the two petitioners, the high court, in May of last year, refused to grant them relief.
1. Vernon v. State of Maharashtra | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 5432 of 2022
2. Arun v. State of Maharashtra | Diary No. 24825 of 2022