The Bombay High Court on Friday extended activist Gautam Navlakha’s interim relief from arrest in the Bhima Koregaon case for three weeks so that he can appeal in the Supreme Court but refused to quash the charges against him, PTI reported.

Navlakha is accused of having links with Maoists. He was one of the five activists arrested in August 2018 in connection with the violence that broke out in the village near Pune on January 1 that year between Dalits and Marathas. The violence was allegedly triggered by an Elgar Parishad event the day before in Pune that was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. Many Dalits fought for the British in the battle against the Brahmin Peshwas.

The court had reserved its verdict on July 26 on Navlakha’s plea to quash the first information report in the case. On Friday, a Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre said the alleged offences by Navlakha were not limited to the violence. “There are many more facets to it,” they added. “Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required. The case is not without basis and absence of material.”

Apart from Navlakha, activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao were also arrested in August 2018. Five other activists – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale – were arrested in June 2018 as part of the same investigation and a chargesheet was filed against them.

During the proceedings on July 26, Navlakha’s advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry contended that the activist was not a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) as claimed by the Pune Police. He said Navlakha cannot be implicated under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on the basis of the letters allegedly recovered by the Pune Policce from the laptops of Navlakha and the other co-accused. Dangre then pointed out that Section 13 of the law penalised the advocating, abetting and advising of unlawful activities. More observed that some of the documents submitted by the police indicated that Navlakha was innocent while other documents might need investigation.

These exchanges came two days after Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai controversially claimed that Navlakha was in touch with the Hizbul Mujahideen and other Kashmiri separatists. She said some of the documents recovered from the laptops of Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling showed that Navlakha and the Maoist groups had been conducting “bilateral talks” with Hizbul Mujahideen since 2011.

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