The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the petition filed by activist Gautam Navlakha, challenging the Bombay High Court order which dismissed the appeal filed by him for statutory bail, reported Live Law.

Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, had argued that he should be granted default bail by considering the period he spent under house arrest as time spent in judicial custody.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph said the matter will be heard on March 22. The court adjourned the hearing after the National Investigation Agency sought time to file a counter affidavit to the plea filed by Navlakha.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Navlakha, told the court that a counter affidavit may not be necessary as the matter involves only a question of law. The bench, however, granted time to NIA to file its affidavit by March 19.

“Because the man is under custody, you have to expedite the process,” Justice Lalit told Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the central agency. “We will have it next Monday. It is only a question of law whether the house-arrest period is to be included for the purposes of Section 167 CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure].”

Navlakha has been in prison since his surrender on April 14 last year. In his bail plea before the High Court, Navlakha had sought bail on the grounds that the NIA had failed to file a chargesheet in the Bhima Koregaon case within the stipulated time period.

The High Court, however, observed that the 34-day house arrest of Navlakha cannot be included for calculating the period for filing chargesheet for the purposes of default bail.

It said that the period of house arrest was held as unlawful custody by the Delhi High Court. The Bombay High Court said that such period of unlawful custody cannot be included while calculating the 90-day period for the grant of default bail under section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

“...Once the authorisation by the magistrate is declared illegal consequently rendering the detention itself illegal, the said period [house arrest custody] cannot be construed to be an authorised custody within the meaning of Section 167(2) of CrPC,” the High Court had said.

Several activists 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.