Supreme Court judge Ravindra Bhat on Thursday recused himself from hearing activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea to quash a first information report filed against him in the Bhima Koregaon case, Live Law reported. He is the fifth top court judge to have opted out of the case. Navlakha has challenged a Bombay High Court order rejecting his petition.

On Tuesday, all three judges – NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai – recused themselves from hearing the activist’s petition. This came a day after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said he would not be able to hear the case. Bhat was on the bench with Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran.

The Supreme Court, however, said the plea would be heard on Friday as Navlakha’s interim protection from arrest would end by then, reported Bar and Bench. On September 13, the Bombay High Court had extended Navlakha’s interim relief from arrest in the case for three weeks, allowing him to appeal in the top court.

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 police claimed that the violence had been triggered by a meeting called the Elgar Parishad event the day before in Pune that had been organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy.

In its order, the High Court said the alleged offences by Navlakha were not limited to the violence. “There are many more facets to it,” it added. “Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required. The case is not without basis and absence of material.”

Along with Navlakha, activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao were also arrested. 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.

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