The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the National Investigation Agency and Maharashtra government to submit their responses on activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea to be kept under house arrest, and not judicial custody, PTI reported.

Navlakha, 70, is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, which pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. He was among 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

The activist had approached the Supreme Court after the Bombay High Court dismissed his petition in April to be placed under house arrest. Navlakha had cited his ill health and poor facilities at the Taloja Jail as reasons for his demand.

“Taloja [Jail] is sorely lacking in infrastructure and manpower and incapable of caring for ailing and elderly inmates such as the petitioner,” he had said in his plea. He had also said that the prison was overcrowded, its toilets were dirty and that his medical condition had deteriorated during his incarceration.

The National Investigation Agency had opposed the plea saying that allowing Navlakha to be placed under house arrest would set a bad precedent. The High Court rejected the plea, saying that Navlakha could take up his grievances with the NIA.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Navlakha’s lawyer said that the activist had moved the High Court based on a Supreme Court order from May last year. On a bail plea filed by Navlakha, a bench of Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph had held last year that courts had the power to allow house custody under Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Poor health facilities for jailed activists

Navlakha filed his petition demanding house arrest after his co-accused tribal rights activist Stan Swamy died during his time in custody in July last year.

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. He was 84.

Before Swamy’s death, the National Investigation Agency had refused to give him a straw and sipper which he needed to drink water as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. The items were allowed only after outrage on social media.

Another co-accused, 82-year-old Varavara Rao was admitted to hospital, and later released on medical bail after he argued before the Bombay High Court that there was “reasonable apprehension” that he would die in custody. In November 2020, the High Court directed Taloja jail authorities to shift him to Nanavati Hospital, saying that he was almost on his deathbed.