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Koregaon Bhima case: SC extends protection from arrest to Gautam Navlakha till Oct 15


New Delhi, Oct 4: The Supreme Court Friday extended till October 15 the interim protection from arrest granted by the Bombay High Court to civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha in the Koregaon Bhima violence case.

The top court directed the Maharashtra government to place before it the material which was collected during the investigation against Navlakha and placed before the high court in a sealed cover.

Koregaon Bhima case: SC extends protection from arrest to Gautam Navlakha till Oct 15

While agreeing to hear Navlakha's plea challenging the September 13 Bombay High Court order refusing to quash the FIR lodged against him, a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said it would hear the arguments on October 15.

"Certain material which was produced before the high court, in a sealed cover, is not available today. The counsel appearing for the state of Maharashtra has prayed for time to produce the material," the bench noted in its order. "List the petition for further hearing on October 15, 2019 at 3 PM. In the meantime, interim protection granted by the high court shall continue," the bench said.

The high court had refused to quash the FIR lodged against him in the 2017 Koregaon-Bhima case and for having alleged Maoist links, noting that there was prima facie substance in the case. "Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required," the high court had said and extended the protection from arrest to Navlakha for three weeks to enable him to approach the apex court to file an appeal against its order.

During the hearing on Friday, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioner, said that Navlakha is the secretary of organisation People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and he has always condemned violence. However, the bench asked Singhvi as to why Navlakha has not approached the court to seek anticipatory bail under section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in the case.

"Why you have not applied for bail under section 438? The protection is continuing under section 482 (inherent powers of the high court) of the CrPC," the bench asked. Singhvi said Navlakha can approach the court for anticipatory bail but the apex court should grant protection to him as has been continuing since over last one year.

The senior counsel said there was no allegation that Navlakha was a member of any banned organisation and provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) could not have been attracted against him.

"I (Navlakha) have categorically spoken against violence," he said, adding that Navlakha was earlier used by the government as a channel of communication with the Maoists. He said that being a journalist and rights activist, it is the job of Navlakha to raise issues concerning civil rights and he had also condemned killings of security personnel. "The allegation is that I (Navlakha) had expressed sympathy and was in communication with them (Maoists). There is no allegation of violence at my behest. I have always condemned violence," he said, adding that it was an irony that the Maoists think that Navlakha is conspiring with the government against them. "I (Navlakha) am between the devil and the deep sea," he said.

During the hearing, the bench asked advocate Nishant R Katneshwarkar, who was appearing for Maharashtra, as to whether charge sheet has been filed against Navlakha. Katneshwarkar told the bench that charge sheet has been filed against 28 persons in the case out of which 15 are lodged in judicial custody. He said that charge sheet has not been filed against Navlakha. Singhvi, while referring to the provisions of UAPA and the allegations levelled against Navlakha, said that no case for lodging an FIR was made out.

"We should be satisfied first as to whether we need to interfere in the FIR," the bench observed. When the bench asked Katneshwarkar about the materials against Navlakha, the counsel said he would placed them before the court. He alleged that letters recovered from other co-accused during the investigation revealed that Navlakha had a "deep-rooted role" in the case.

"We want to see the letters and materials referred to by the high court," the bench said. The Maharashtra government had earlier filed a caveat in the matter seeking to be heard before any orders are passed. The FIR was lodged against Navlakha and others by the Pune Police in January 2018 after the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 that had allegedly triggered violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune district the next day.

The police has also alleged that Navlakha and other accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards overthrowing the government. Navlakha and the other accused were booked under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code. Besides Navlakha, four others -- Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj, are accused in the case.

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