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

On Tuesday, a bench of Justices UU Lalit, Ravindra Bhat and Bela Trivedi was hearing Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s petition challenging Bharadwaj’s bail.

Mehta on Monday had requested the Chief Justice of India to list the petition for urgent hearing.

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.

On Tuesday, the court said it had no reason to interfere with the Bombay High Court’s order, Live Law reported.

The court added that the solicitor general of India could have requested the special NIA court for an extension of time for inquiry and detention of the lawyer-activist, Bar and Bench reported.

“When special courts manned by special judges was in existence then why did you make this application for an extension before a magisterial court?” the bench asked.

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 allegedly 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.