The lawyer representing activists Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha and Delhi University Professor Hany Babu, who have been jailed in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, on Tuesday told a court in Mumbai that they were denied books in prison, PTI reported.

Bharadwaj, Navlakha and Babu filed separate petitions in a special National Investigation Agency court, asking for access to books and newspapers in jail. Navlakha and Babu are in Mumbai’s Taloja Jail, while Bharadwaj is in Byculla Women’s Jail.

Chandni Chawla told the court that jail authorities did not allow her to deliver books to Bharadwaj, Navlakha and Babu. She also said authorities refused to accept the books via post, saying they want a court order for the handover.

Special Judge DE Kothalikar directed Chawla to file an affidavit stating that she had approached the prison authorities with the books, which they refused to accept. The judge said that jail authorities had the power to decide on such matters under Rule 13 of the Maharashtra Prison Manual. The case will be heard next on January 12.

The denial of essentials to undertrials in the Bhima Koregaon case has evoked outrage across the country. Earlier this month, the Maharashtra government had ordered an inquiry into Taloja Jail authorities’ refusal to accept a package containing Navlakha’s spectacles.

Also read: Why are inmates unable to access basic facilities in Indian prisons?

Activist Stan Swamy, who has been arrested in the same case, had also struggled to get a straw and sipper in jail. The 83-year-old tribal rights activist suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Swamy had filed an application before a special court on November 6 to get the essential supplies. The National Investigation Agency had sought 20 days to reply to Swamy’s plea. But on the date of the hearing, the agency informed the court that it did not have his straw or sipper and even denied confiscating it.

A huge campaign was then launched by social media users to send sippers and straws to Swamy. On November 29, Inspector General of Police (Prisons) Chhering Dorje informed the media that Swamy had been given a sipper.

Telugu poet Varavara Rao is another undertrial suffering from an acute medical condition. On November 18, the Bombay High Court had directed Taloja Jail authorities to shift him to Nanavati Hospital for 15 days, saying that he was almost on his deathbed.

Sudha Bharadwaj seeks withdrawal of NIA’s ‘scurrilous’ allegations against her

Meanwhile, Bharadwaj filed an application in the special NIA court, seeking the withdrawal of defamatory accusations leveled against her, Bar and Bench reported. The activist said that a response filed by the NIA in the case consisted of “baseless allegations” against her.

The NIA’s reply said, “it is pertinent to observe that by way of this present application the accused Sudha Bharadwaj is digging the identities of the aforesaid witnesses so as to cause harm to them”.

Bharadwaj said that the investigation agency’s statements were unsubstantiated and could harm witnesses in the case. The court directed the NIA to provide unedited statements of the witnesses to Bharadwaj.

Bhima Koregaon case

The first chargesheet was filed by the Pune Police in November, 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It had named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June, 2018. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

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.

Eight people who have been named in the National Investigation Agency chargesheet for the January 2018 violence are former IIT professor Anand Teltumbde, his brother Milind Teltumbde, Navlakha, Babu, three members of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch and Swamy. Of them, Milind Teltumbde has been named as an absconding accused and top operative of CPI (Maoist) in the chargesheet.