Eight activists and academicians currently in jail in the Bhima Koregaon case on Tuesday filed a plea before the Bombay High Court saying that they were denied default bail based on a “factual error” in judgement, PTI reported.

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in January 2018. The eight activists and academicians were among the 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

On December 1, the court had denied default bail to eight accused persons – Sudhir Dhawale, P Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Professor Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira – they had not applied for the bail on time.

On the same day, the court had granted default bail to activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who was one of the 16 people arrested in the case. It had observed that the activist had made the bail application before a Pune court on time before the chargesheet was filed. Her 90-day detention period was over as well.

However, Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Sen and Raut have said that they filed their default bail pleas 90 days after their arrest and six weeks before the chargesheet was submitted against them, Live Law reported.

Gonsalves, Rao and Ferriera said that they had applied for default bail four days after Bharadwaj did. They added that the Pune court rejected the bail application of the five accused persons in a common order.

However, the Bombay High Court had set aside the Pune court order while granting default bail to Bharadwaj on December 1, the activists said in their plea, Live Law reported.

“The date of arrest of the accused 6-9 [Gonsalves, Rao, Ferriera and Bharadwaj] being the same and all the accused had preferred application for default and hence are at par,” the plea stated. “The Accused No. 6-8 [Gonsalves, Rao and Ferriera] have been denied same relief accorded to Sudha Bharadwaj on account of a factual error.”

The Bhima Koregaon case

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 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.

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.