A Mumbai court on Tuesday started hearing the first of seven discharge applications filed by accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case, Bar and Bench reported.

The hearings of the discharge applications constitute the first step towards framing of charges against the accused persons. The trial in the case will begin after the charges are framed.

The development came after the Supreme Court, on August 19, ordered a National Investigation Agency court to decide on framing charges against the accused persons within three months.

Under Section 239 of the Criminal Procedure Code, accused persons can file discharge applications to argue that the charges against them are without any basis. Judges have the power to discharge the accused persons based on the applications.

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Sixteen persons, including activists, academicians and artists were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

On Tuesday, a special National Investigation Court in Mumbai started hearing the discharge application filed by one of the accused persons, human rights activist Sudhir Dhawale.

Along with Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Anand Teltumbde, Jyoti Jagtap, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Hany Babu have filed discharge applications, according to Bar and Bench.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Dhawale’s lawyers, advocates R Satyanarayanan and Neeraj Yadav, told the court that their client had been named in the case solely because he had called upon voters to not support the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The lawyers added that Dhawale’s speech at the Elgar Parishad event, following which the caste violence sparked off, called for protecting democracy and for peaceful resistance.

Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency opposed the discharge applications of Dhawale, Raut, Teltumbde and Jagtap, claiming that they had been filed on improper grounds, according to Bar and Bench.

The Bhima Koregaon case

The Elgar Parishad event took place in Pune on December 31, 2017, a day before violent clashes broke out between Maratha and Dalit groups near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra.

While Dalit groups and individuals have accused Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide of instigating the violence through hate speeches before the incident, the focus of the National Investigation Agency has been on the Elgar Parishad event being part of a larger Maoist conspiracy to stoke caste violence, destabilise the Central government and assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020.

Out of the 16 arrested persons, Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died at a hospital in Mumbai while in custody. Two other accused persons, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao are currently out on bail.