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Gautam Navlakha Bail: HC Says Insufficient Evidence for Terror Charges

Newsclick Report |
The Bombay HC on December 19 granted bail to activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha, arrested in Bhima Koregaon case.
Gautam Navlakha

Gautam Navlakha and Bombay High Court

New Delhi: The Bombay High Court, while granting bail to activist Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case of 2018, observed that there was no prima facie evidence linking Navlakha to any terrorist activity under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

A division bench of Justices AS Gadkari and SG Dige on December 19 granted bail to the activist and journalist arrested in 2020. 

The Court emphasised that while the evidence at most suggested Navlakha’s association with the banned CPI (Maoist), it only warranted charges under Sections 13 (unlawful activities) and 38 (membership of terrorist organisation) of the UAPA. They pointed out the lack of prima facie evidence indicating Navlakha’s involvement in a terrorist act as specified under Section 15 of the UAPA, the Bar and Bench reported.

The bench said, “According to us, the record prima facie indicates that, it was at the most the intention of the Appellant to commit the alleged crime and not more than it. The said intention has not been further transformed into preparation or attempt to commit a terrorist act, to attract Section 15 of the UAPA.”

It further noted there was no material on record to point that the accusation against Navlakha under Sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 17 (Punishment for raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 20 and 39 of UAPA are prima facie true.

The Court also observed that the possibility of concluding the trial in the near future was "very bleak".

“Navlakha is in pre-trial incarceration for more than three years and eight months. The charge sheet consists of about 20,000 pages in 54 volumes and the prosecution has cited 370 witnesses in it. The trial court has submitted a report dated September 18, 2022, stating that it will require more than a year to frame the charge. As a matter of fact, to date, the trial Court has not framed the charge. The possibility of a trial of the Appellant being concluded in the near future is very bleak”, the Court said in its order.

Navlakha, a 73-year-old activist, is the seventh accused to be granted bail in this case, following Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira.

After the National Investigation Agency (NIA) urged the Court to stay the order for six weeks, but the Court stayed the order for three weeks. 

A human rights activist, Navlakha has been in custody since April 14, 2020. Initially lodged in prison, he was later shifted to his house and placed under house arrest in November 2022 after the SC granted his plea, citing his advanced age. He has been under house arrest in Navi Mumbai.

A special NIA court, on September 5, 2022, rejected Navlakha’s regular bail application. However, as the bail order lacked reasoning, the HC directed the bail application to be decided afresh in March 2023, calling the trial court’s ruling ‘cryptic.’ The trial court again rejected his bail application, leading Navlakha to file the present appeal in the High Court.

[With PTI inputs]

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