The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended by four weeks the interim protection from arrest granted to activist Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case, Bar and Bench reported. It also granted Navlakha permission to approach an appropriate court seeking pre-arrest bail.

On October 4, the court had extended Navlakha’s protection from arrest till October 15. 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.

The hearings in the top court were postponed after five judges recused themselves from hearing Navlakha’s plea to quash a first information report filed against him by Pune Police.

On Tuesday, the Maharashtra government told the court that no chargesheet had been filed against Navlakha in the case. It also handed over a sealed cover containing documents that form part of the case diary.

Justice Arun Mishra told lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Navlakha, that it would be premature to entirely quash the proceedings as the investigation was on. In response, Singhvi pointed out that Navlakha, who has been under interim protection from arrest for the past 18 months, had not been interrogated yet. Singhvi said the law allows courts to quash proceedings even at the investigation stage.

“I will submit submit to interrogation whenever they call me,” Singhvi said on behalf of his client. “The court may decide the case and in the meantime my interim protection may be extended.”

Mishra told Singhvi that it would be better for the activist to apply for bail after he is arrested instead of seeking to quash the FIR. “Basic question is that the prosecution feels that there are some correspondences, and based on those they want to ascertain if you are involved [in the conspiracy] or not,” Mishra added.

The case

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.

According to the police, the violence was triggered by a meeting called the Elgar Parishad, which was was organised the day before in Pune to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy.

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. Earlier on Tuesday, the Bombay High Court denied bail to Gonsalves, Bharadwaj and Ferreira.

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