Activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha denied anticipatory bail in Bhima Koregaon case

Published : March 16, 2020 19:40 IST

Anand Teltumbde, a file picture. Photo: Mandar Tannu

Gautam Navlakha, a file picture. Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP

In a setback to civil rights activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, the Supreme Court has rejected their anticipatory bail pleas filed in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. Both face charges in connection with the violence that erupted on January 1, 2018, at Bhima-Koregaon, a village near Ahmednagar.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M.R. Shah has asked Anand Teltumbde, who is based in Goa, and Gautam Navlakha, who lives in New Delhi, to surrender to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in three weeks. The activists have also been told to turn in their passports.

Teltumbde, an eminent Dalit Scholar, and Navlakha, a well-known human rights activists and editorial consultant of Economic and Political Weekly, were booked under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for being part of the Elgar Parishad, which was a meeting of left activists and Dalit groups, and for the violence at the 200th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon that followed this meeting and resulted in the death of one person and injuries to hundreds.

The police claimed that Maratha groups, instigated by the fiery speeches at the Elgar Parishad, attacked thousands of Dalits who had gathered at the village. Both Teltumbde and Navlakha have maintained that they were not part of the Elgar Parishad and no evidence on links to banned Maoists groups has emerged from the raids on their homes and offices. For this they have been spared close to 18 months in jail. Ten other activists, who face the same charges and additional charges of involvement in “anti-national” activities, which includes an assassination plot against the Prime Minister, were arrested in August and September 2018. Until recently they were lodged in Pune’s Yerwada jail. After the new Maharashtra coalition government of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress took charge in November 2019 all 10 were shifted to Mumbai’s Arthur road jail and subsequently the case was transferred to the NIA.

In what is believed to be a witch-hunt, several well-known and senior advocates have been helping the accused. Representing Teltumbde and Navlakha, senior lawyers Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal argued that there was no prima facie case against the activists. There was also no evidence that connected them to the Bhima Koregaon violence or that they were members of banned Maoists organisations, the lawyers said. However, the Supreme Court order said the bench felt that there was sufficient evidence to file a prima facie case and dismissed the plea for anticipatory bail.

The anticipatory bail case dates back to November 2019, when Teltumbde and Navlakha had approached the Bombay High Court seeking pre-arrest bail. In February 2020, the Bombay High Court denied them the pre-arrest bail but extended interim relief until March 16, 2020. The activists then appealed in the apex court, which said the petitions were not maintainable given the material collected by the investigation agency. The court also gave weight to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s argument that custodial interrogation of Teltumbde and Navlakha was necessary for the investigation to proceed.