The Supreme Court today, granted bail to Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira arrested in the Bhima Koregaon or the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case. The Bombay High Court’s order dated October 15, 2019 was under challenge before the Apex Court, whereby the High Court on finding the accusation of commission of the offences punishable under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) to be true, had denied bail to the accused.

The main contention of the appellants was that Sudha Bharadwaj, a co-accused in the case, was granted bail, however, the High Court had denied default bail to other accused persons.

A bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia while setting aside the impugned order of the High Court, observed, “While forming our opinion juxtaposing the appellants case found under the Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the aforesaid allegations and considering the fact that almost 5 years have lapsed since they were taken into custody, we are satisfied that the appellants have made out a case for granting bail. Allegations against them no doubt are serious but for that reason alone they cannot be denied to bail. While dealing with offences under Chapter 4 and 6 of the 1967 Act we have referred to the materials available against them at this stage. These materials cannot justify continued detention of the appellants pending final outcome of the case under the other provision of 1860 and 1967 Act”.

However, the bench while considering the fact that Gonsalves was once earlier convicted under the 1967 Act, and that a criminal case is also pending against him on allegations of similar kinds of activities, imposed certain conditions.

Senior Advocates Rebecca John and R. Basant appeared for the petitioners and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and ASG K M Nataraj appeared for the respondents during the hearing when the order was reserved, which was pronounced today.

In the present matter, the appellants are accused of offences punishable under Sections 121, 121A, 124A, 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120B read with 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1872 and under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18, 18B, 20, 38, 39, 40 of the UAPA as amended in 2008 and 2012.

A bench of Justice Sarang V. Kotwal of the Bombay High Court relying on the materials placed and the nature of offences alleged, had observed, “I find that, there is sufficient material in the charge-sheet against the applicant. There are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation of commission of the offences punishable under Chapters IV and VI of the UAPA against the applicant is prima facie true. Considering the express bar imposed by Section 43D(5) of the UAPA, the applicant cannot be released on bail. The other argument regarding his achievements in the field of academics and his continued detention in jail for a long period cannot be taken into consideration”.

For the background, an FIR was lodged by Tushar Ramesh Damgude against certain accused contending that a banned organization-Communist Party of India (Maoist) was inciting violence by creating communal disharmony. According to him, the members of Kabir Kala Manch spread hatred through their songs, plays and speeches causing enmity between different communities. As a result, there were incidents of violence, arson and stone pelting near Bhima-Koregaon. The investigation progressed and based on the material gathered during investigation, Section 120B of IPC was added on March 6, 2018.

However, upon investigation, based upon the seized and recovered incriminating material, it was revealed that a few more persons were part of the criminal conspiracy and their role was not merely peripheral but was very vital. Those other accused were (1) Varavara Rao (2) Arun Ferreira (3) Sudha Bharadwaj (4) Gautam Navlakha, (5) Vernon Gonsalves They were arrested and were initially put under house-arrest on August 28, 2018.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had opposed the plea on the ground that the accused were seeking the same prayer of default bail under the guise of review, and that it was an abuse of the process of law and sets a wrong precedent.

Cause Title: Vernon v. State of Maharashtra