The Bombay High Court on Thursday refused to intervene in a plea filed by eight accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case, seeking rectification in an order that refused them bail, Bar and Bench reported.

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

The plea filed by the eight accused persons contended that they had been refused bail on the basis of a “factual error” in the judgement.

On Thursday, the counsel representing the activists and academicians requested the court to dispose the current plea. He said that the petitioners would file another application seeking a review, and not rectification of the order.

On December 1, the Bombay High Court had denied default bail to eight accused persons – Sudhir Dhawale, Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. The court held that the petitioners had not applied for the bail on time.

However, 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. In her case, the court observed that Bharadwaj had filed a bail plea before a Pune court on time before the chargesheet was filed in the case. The court noted that Bharadwaj’s 90-day detention period was over as well.

Citing the court’s verdict in Bharadwaj’s case, Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Sen and Raut claimed that they too had filed their default bail pleas 90 days after their arrest and six weeks before the chargesheet was submitted against them.

Three other accused persons – Gonsalves, Rao and Ferriera contended that they had applied for default bail four days after Bharadwaj did. They pointed out that the Pune court had rejected the bail application of 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.

“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 6-8 [Gonsalves, Rao and Ferriera] have been denied same relief accorded to Sudha Bharadwaj on account of a factual error.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Advocate Sudeep Pasbola, representing the petitioners, noted that under Section 362 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the court could alter a signed judgement only to “correct a clerical or arithmetical error”, which was not the point of contention in this case, Bar and Bench reported.

Pasbola requested the court to dispose the current plea, and sought permission to file a separate petition seeking a review of the order. A bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar told Pasbola that he does not need the court’s permission to file a review petition.

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, Rao, Ferreira,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.