Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case: Gautam Navlakha to be placed under house arrest

Gautam Navlakha.
It also said that Navlakha will not be allowed to use a computer and internet during his house arrest: IANS

New Delhi: In a relief to activist Gautam Navlakha, who is in jail in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed his request to be placed under house arrest, saying prima facie there is no reason to reject his medical report.

Imposing a number of conditions, a bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said the order to place the 70-year-old activist under house arrest for a month in Mumbai should be implemented within 48 hours.

"It is unlikely that the case will make any progress towards culmination in the foreseeable future, with charges not being framed.

"We would think that he should be allowed to be placed for (under) house arrest for a period of one month," the bench said.

The apex court also directed Navlakha to deposit Rs 2.4 lakh, an estimated amount which the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claims as expenses for making available police personnel.

It also said that Navlakha will not be allowed to use a computer and internet during his house arrest.

"Petitioner will not use a computer, internet or any other communication device while under house arrest. He will, however, be permitted to use a mobile phone without internet, provided by police personnel on duty, once a day for 10 minutes in the presence of the police," the bench said.

The apex court also said that Navlakha shall not be allowed to leave Mumbai and he will not attempt, in any manner, to influence witnesses during his house arrest.

Television and newspapers will be allowed, but these cannot be internet-based, it said.

"We observe that the petitioner and companion are expected to scrupulously adhere to all conditions. Any deviation will be viewed seriously and may entail immediate cancellation of the order," the bench said.

On Wednesday, the top court had asked the NIA to inform it about the kind of restrictions it wanted for Navlakha if he is placed under house arrest and asked Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the agency, to seek instructions.

As the hearing commenced on Thursday, Raju said there's a twist in the tale. "We have reason to believe that the medical report is tainted," he said.

He said the medical report filed by the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai may be "tainted" as Navlakha's brother-in-law, a doctor, was part of the medical board.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Navlakha, had said on Wednesday that the medical reports showed that there was no possibility of him being treated in jail.

Raju had stoutly opposed the application and submitted that Navlakha's health condition was not so bad that he be placed under house arrest.

The activist appealed to the apex court against the April 26 order of the Bombay High Court dismissing his plea for house arrest over apprehensions of lack of adequate medical and other basic facilities in Taloja jail near Mumbai, where he is lodged.

On September 27, the top court had sought responses from the NIA and the state of Maharashtra to Navlakha's plea that he be placed under house arrest instead of judicial custody in the Elgar Parishad case in which several Left-leaning activists and intellectuals are in jail for alleged Maoist links.

The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claim triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.

The Pune police had claimed the conclave was organised by people with Maoist links. The NIA later took over the probe.

The high court had said Navlakha's apprehensions about the lack of medical aid and inadequate basic facilities at the Taloja prison were "ill-founded".

The apex court had earlier granted bail to 82-year-old activist P Varavara Rao in the case.

Navlakha had told the high court that the Taloja prison is overcrowded, the toilets dirty and that his medical condition deteriorated during his incarceration there.

"The case of the petitioner does not fit in any of the criteria (provided for by SC). The apprehension of the petitioner that he will not be provided medical aid and his life will be miserable in unhygienic conditions and atmosphere of the prison seems to be ill-founded," the high court had said.

Navlakha had claimed he was denied a chair, a pair of slippers, his spectacles, and a PG Wodehouse book by the prison superintendent.  

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