The Supreme Court today expressed its reservations on the earlier order passed by a two-judge bench of the Court, directing to put Bhima Koregaon accused Gautam Navlakha under house arrest owing to his deteriorating health condition. The Bench was of the opinion that the earlier order may have set a "wrong precedent".

The Bombay High Court had turned down alleged Maoist Gautam Navlakha’s request to be put under house arrest. However, the Bench of Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice Hrishikesh Roy had allowed the request by an interim order, while directing him to deposit Rs 2.4 lakh for making available police personnel for his security. The 17-page interim order allowing him to be put under house arrest was passed by the Bench on November 10, 2023. The original period of one month has been extended through subsequent orders.

“See, prima facie, we might have our own reservations. But a lengthy order has been passed…without going into the merits of the case, this might set a wrong precedent. You (to Navlakha’s counsel) may have 100 per cent merit, we are not saying anything, but to facilitate this for one person will have a…please file an affidavit”, remarked Justice M.M. Sundresh who was heading the Bench also comprised Justice J.B. Pardiwala.

The remarks came during the arguments today, when ASG S.V. Raju appearing for NIA referring to the November 2022 order directing for house arrest called it 'unwarranted' and further commented, “This is a very unusual order of house arrest milords. Probably the first of its kind”.

Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan appearing for Navlakha, however, apprised the Court that as per the previous order dated April 28, 2023, Rs 8 lakh as an expense for making available police personnel for his security has been deposited.

For the background, the Bombay High Court, on finding that the case of the petitioner does not fit in any of the criteria which has been laid down by Apex Court in Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency 2021 SCC Online SC 382, had refused him the facility.

The NIA had strongly opposed Navlakha's request as he stands charged with very serious crimes under the UAPA and the IPC. It was stated that the crimes go to the very security of the nation. It was further submitted that Dr. S. Kothari whose opinion was being referred to was his brother-in-law (husband of his sister).

However, putting a number of conditions, including a deposit of Rs 2.4 lakh as security expenses, the Apex Court had said the order to place the 70-year-old activist under house arrest for a month in Mumbai should be implemented within 48 hours. Since the November 10, 2022 order, the Apex Court has time and again extended the tenure of his house arrest.

On February 17, Navlakha had withdrawn from the Apex Court, his application seeking to be shifted to Delhi from Mumbai under house arrest. Navlakha has told the Court through his counsel that he will look for some other place to stay in Mumbai.

On January 9, the Supreme Court said its interim order placing Navlakha under house arrest will continue till the next date of hearing.

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

Subsequently, a chargesheet was filed against the petitioner on October 9, 2020 and Navlakha stands accused along with 15 others. As per the chargesheet, he has been arraigned under Sections 13, 16, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Sections 120B, 115, 121, 121A, 124A, 505(1)(b) and 34 of the IPC.

The Bench will now hear the matter after 8 weeks.

Cause Title: Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency and Anr