A National Investigation Agency court on Wednesday ruled that lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj can be released from jail after furnishing a bail bond of Rs 50,000 and one or more sureties in the Bhima Koregaon case, reported Live Law.
Special Judge DE Kothalikar also directed her to not leave Mumbai without the permission of the court.
Bharadwaj will be released from the Byculla Jail in Mumbai on Thursday morning as the formalities related to her bail could not be completed before the 5 pm deadline on Wednesday, her lawyer Yug Chaudhry said, according to PTI.
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.
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.
In its order on Wednesday, the judge directed Bharadwaj to reside within the court’s jurisdiction. He told her to inform the court and the National Investigation Agency where she will live and give her phone number and contact details of her relatives.
The court also directed the activist to attend the proceedings of her trial and not make any statement to the media. Advocate Chaudhry urged the court to not stifle her fundamental rights and allow her to write if she wants.
During the hearing, Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Shetty, representing the National Investigation Agency, agreed to Chaudhary’s demand for her release on cash bail bond.
He added: “I am not saying there is apprehension she will abscond, [but] tampering of evidence cannot be ruled out.”
Chaudhry requested the court to allow Bharadwaj to travel to Mumbai, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.
“She is a practicing lawyer in Chhattisgarh,” he said. “We all have to work for a living. She has to pay her lawyers.”
Shetty opposed the submission, saying that she can practise in Nagpur itself.
In its order, the court noted that Bharadwaj has been in jail for more than three years and that the central agency has expressed apprehensions of tampering with evidence.
“Considering this, leniency in my view as prayed cannot be shown,” the order said. “I recall the order passed by the HC [High Court] for similarly placed accused Varavara Rao and to impose the similar conditions.”
Rao was also granted bail on the condition that he has to stay within the jurisdiction of the Special National Investigation Agency Court.
Bharadwaj 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.
Of 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, Wilson, 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.