Don't Arrest Activist Gautam Navlakha, Supreme Court Tells Maharashtra

Koregaon-Bhima case: The Maharashtra government will have to show evidence against Gautam Navlakha, the Supreme Court said today

Don't Arrest Activist Gautam Navlakha, Supreme Court Tells Maharashtra

Gautam Navlakha has not been questioned for last 14 months, his lawyer said

New Delhi:

The protection from arrest granted by the Supreme Court to Gautam Navlakha, one of the five rights activists named in the Koregaon-Bhima violence case, has been extended till the next hearing on October 15.

The Maharashtra government will have to show evidence against Mr Navlakha, who - along with four others - it has accused of inciting a crowd at the 'Elgaar Parishad' meeting in Pune on December 31 last year that later triggered violence at Koragaon-Bhima village, 29 km away.

The four other activists are Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj.

The investigators in Maharashtra cannot take any action against Mr Navlakha till the time he enjoys protection from arrest, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the activist, said Mr Navlakha has not been questioned for the last 14 months ever since he was kept under protection from arrested.

"The FIR (First Information Report) was filed on January 2018 and Navlakha was not named. He had categorically spoken against violence. He doesn't belong to any banned organisation. The only allegation is that he expressed sympathy," Mr Singhvi said.

The top court said any person who supports a banned organisation can be prosecuted. "It is not normal to give protection. Why not apply for anticipatory bail?" the court said.

"Protect him for three or four weeks so that he can seek anticipatory bail," Mr Singhvi said.

The Maharashtra government said the letter of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) recovered from rights activists Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling spoke about Mr Navlakha's role in the banned organisation. 


"We want to see the letters and other material referred by the Bombay High Court," the bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said. "Don't proceed against him when we are hearing it."

At least three Supreme Court judges have recused themselves from hearing a plea filed by Mr Navlakha against a Bombay High Court verdict refusing to scrap the police complaint lodged against him in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.

Justice S Ravindra Bhat, the third judge who withdrew from the case on Friday, gave no reason for his decision. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was the first to recuse himself from hearing Mr Navlakha's plea on September 30, citing time constraints as well as the ongoing Ayodhya litigation as reasons. On Tuesday, Justice BR Gavai followed suit.

Mr Navlakha had been under house arrest till he was freed by the Delhi High Court on October 1, citing a Supreme Court order that allowed him to approach an appropriate forum within four weeks to seek legal help.

In August, senior officers of the Maharashtra Police claimed solid evidence including "thousands of documents and letters" that established the activists' links to Maoists and their role in facilitating weapons and funding.

In front of cameras, senior police officer Param Bir Singh had read out a letter exchanged between an activist arrested in June, which spoke of planning "another Rajiv Gandhi-like incident to end Modi-raj".

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.