Yet another Supreme Court judge today recused himself from hearing a plea filed by civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha against a Bombay High Court verdict refusing to scrap a police complaint lodged against him in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.
Justice S Ravindra Bhat, the fifth judge to withdraw from the case until now, gave no reason for his decision. The case will be heard by a two-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta on Friday, given that the three-week protection provided to Gautam Navlakha by the Bombay High Court expires the same day.
The Bhima-Koregaon case pertains to clashes that erupted during a celebratory gathering at the Maharashtra village in 2018 to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon, wherein a band of lower-caste soldiers fighting under the British banner defeated the numerically superior army of Peshwa Bajirao II.
The complaint filed against Gautam Navlakha by the Pune police claimed that he and four other activists had incited the crowd, sparking violence that claimed the life of a 28-year-old man and resulted in the detention of over 300 people. It was also alleged that he and the other accused in the case were working with Maoists to "overthrow" the government.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was the first to recuse himself from hearing Gautam Navlakha's plea on September 30, citing time constraints as well as the ongoing Ayodhya litigation as reasons. On Tuesday, three more judges - Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai - followed suit.
On September 13, the Bombay High Court had cited the "magnitude" of the allegations against the activist to deny scrapping of the complaint. It, however, provided him three-week protection from arrest to allow him to approach the Supreme Court.
Gautam Navlakha and the other accused - Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj - have been charged under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as well as the Indian Penal Code.