The Supreme Court will on Tuesday hear the National Investigation Agency’s petition challenging the default bail granted to lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj by the Bombay High Court in the Bhima Koregaon case, Live Law reported.

A three-judge bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela Trivedi will hear the petition.

On Monday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the agency’s petition before Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and sought its urgent listing, according to Live Law.

Bharadwaj, who has been in jail since 2018, was granted default bail by a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court on December 1. The court had asked her to approach the special National Investigation Agency court by December 8 to finalise modalities about her release and bail conditions.

However, on December 3, the National Investigation Agency challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

At Monday’s hearing, Mehta pointed out that the bail order will come into effect on December 8.

“...I will have to succeed or lose tomorrow [Tuesday],” he told the chief justice.

Bharadwaj was among the 16 activists, lawyers and academicians who had been arrested for allegedly conspiring to set off caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018.

The activist had applied for default bail on November 26, 2018. The chargesheet against her was filed on February 21, 2019.

Eight other accused persons in the case had also sought bail.

Among the nine applicants, only Bharadwaj got bail as her petition met the criteria required for default bail. She filed the application before the filing of the chargesheet and when her 90-day detention period was over.

The continued imprisonment of activists and academicians in the Bhima Koregaon case based on alleged flimsy evidence has been criticised by members of civil society.

In February, a United States-based digital forensics firm had found that at least 10 incriminating letters were planted on the laptop of one of the accused Rona Wilson. In July, it emerged that evidence was also planted on another detainee Surendra Gadling’s computer.

The Bhima Koregaon case

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. One person was killed and several others injured in the violence.

The first chargesheet in the case was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, and Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June 2018.

The police claimed that they had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused the activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One of the accused, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, died in custody in July. Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison, was repeatedly denied bail despite his deteriorating health condition.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against Bharadwaj, poet Varavara Rao, activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.