Civil rights campaigner Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence of 2018, on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that the period he spent under house arrest must be considered as time spent in custody, PTI reported. The activist sought default bail on the grounds that the National Investigation Agency had failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated period of 90 days.
However, a bench of Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik reserved their verdict on Navlakha’s petition seeking statutory bail.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the central agency argued that Navlakha’s plea was not maintainable. Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, representing the NIA, said that the Pune Police had arrested the activist in August 28, 2018. He said that the period of 34 days of Navlakha’s house arrest was quashed by the Delhi High Court and cannot be included in the period of detention.
However, advocate Kapil Sibal told the court that Navlakha’s personal liberties were curtailed when he was put under house arrest. The application for extension of time to file the chargesheet in the case was filed by NIA on June 29 this year. “If the 34 days are counted, the NIA’s application is beyond 90 days and their application is not maintainable,” the lawyer said. “So, he [Navlakha] is entitled to default bail.”
Raju opposed this and said that arrest and custody are different things. But Sibal intervened and said that “nature of custody was changed, but it was an arrest nonetheless” as his movements were restricted, according to The Indian Express.
Sibal informed the court that the 70-year-old activist surrendered on April 14 this year in Delhi before the NIA. This was after his bail petitions were dismissed by both the High Court and the Supreme Court. The first information report against Navlakha was re-registered in January 2020.
The judges asked the counsel for both Navlakha and the NIA to file any other submission they wish to make in writing within a week’s time and reserved the order.
Several activists and academics have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day.
The Centre transferred the case to the NIA in January after the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra was defeated. A coalition government of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress came to power in the state in November 2019.