India Supreme Court rejects application against activist’s house arrest
© JURIST (Neelabh Bist)
India Supreme Court rejects application against activist’s house arrest

The Supreme Court of India has dismissed the National Investigating Agency’s (NIA) application to vacate the order that allowed activist Gautam Navlakha’s shift to house arrest from Taloja prison in Mumbai, where he had been detained in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case since April 2020.

On August 28, 2018, Navlakha was arrested by Mumbai police for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon violence case. Elgar Parishad was held on December 31, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon (1818). At this event, violence broke out between Dalit and Maratha communities. Many human rights activists and journalists were arrested for instigating violence through their speeches. Navlakha, though not present at Elgar Parishad, was arrested for “plotting” the Bhima Koregaon violence and for his “Maoist” links, about eight months after the event.

In the Bhima Koregaon case, the authorities detained 16 human rights activists, including Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Stan Swamy, Sagar Tatyarao Gorakhe, Ramesh Murlidhar Gaichor and Jyoti Raghoba Jagtab. UN human rights experts expressed concerns about terrorism charges laid against Navlakha and other activists and urged authorities to ensure their cases are promptly heard in line with international law. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also called for their release.

In its application, the NIA disputed the medical report that Navlakha was in ill health and also questioned the location chosen for house arrest, querying whether a library is under the control of the Communist party. The bench dismissed both of the contentions.

During the proceeding, the bench commented on the NIA’s application,

If you (NIA) are trying to find out some loopholes to see that our order is defied, we will take a very serious view of it. If with the entire police force you (NIA) cannot keep a watch on a 70-year-old ailing man, then think about the weakness … please do not say such a thing. With all the might of the State, you are not able to keep a 70-year-old ailing man in house confinement.

The Supreme Court bench of J. KM Joseph and J. Hrishikesh Roy directed that the order passed on November 10, which allowed the shifting of Navlakha from prison to house arrest, must be executed within 24 hours. The bench also said that it will be open to the NIA to shift the DVRs of the CCTV cameras.