Elgar Parishad: NIA wants to question Gautam Navlakha again
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has moved an application to once again obtain the custody of civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha who was arrested in the Elgar Parishad case after he surrendered at the agency’s Delhi office on April 14.
The application was moved before the special NIA court through special public prosecutor Prakash Shetty claiming that the chief investigating officer in the case had not questioned him when he was in NIA’s custody and that he needs to question him over the statement given by witnesses.
“We have made an application before the special court to question Navlakha for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad case. Navlakha was earlier interrogated in Delhi, but the investigating officer (IO) was not there due to lockdown. He was brought to Mumbai last month, and now a fresh application has been made for his custody so that he can be questioned in Mumbai,” said an NIA officer, requesting anonymity.
Navlakha, along with other activists, has been accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad gathering that happened on December 31, 2017, which allegedly triggered caste-based violence at Bhima Koregaon in Pune, the next day.
Navlakha has been booked under various sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows an investigating agency to have custody of the accused of a period of 30 days, and gives the agency 180 days to file a charge sheet with prior permission from the court, and under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Navlakha was first arrested by the Pune police on August 28, 2018, but the Delhi High court had quashed his arrest on October 1, 2018. The prosecution had alleged that till August-2018 he was a member of CPI (Maoist).
While arresting Navlakha, Pune police had cited several letters, recovered from the computer of one of the accused exchanged between the accused booked in the case. It was alleged that Navlakha and some of the other activists who are also arrested in the case, had direct access and communication with central committee members and senior leaders of CPI (Maoist). Pune police had also alleged that Navlakha was part of the conspiracy and the police were probing if there was a larger conspiracy of seizing the political power, armed revolution by mobilizing masses.
Since his release in October 2018, Navlakha had approached courts for anticipatory bail fearing that he would be arrested again by the police. In the meanwhile, the probe of the case was transferred from Maharashtra police to NIA in January this year, while the order on the anticipatory bail plea was still pending before the Bombay High court. The plea was rejected, and later Apex Court too refused to grant him any protection and had directed him to surrender before the agency.
Following the order of the Apex court, Navlakha had surrendered on April 14 at Delhi. He was later remanded to NIA custody. The NIA questioned him over the allegations of his links with the banned organizations and his involvement into the incident of Elgar Parishad. Navlakha was under NIA custody for fourteen days after his arrest before he was remanded to judicial custody. He was lodged in Tihar jail since he was remanded to judicial custody.
Even as an interim bail plea citing the spread of COVID-19 was pending in the Delhi High Court, NIA on May 26 transferred Navlakha from Tihar jail, with the permission of a court, and brought him to Mumbai by train. Navlakha since then has been lodged at Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
Meanwhile, Navlakha has sought bail as the agency has failed to file a charge sheet within 90 days. “We have moved a bail plea for Navlakha as the investigating agency has failed to file charge sheet against him within a stipulated time of 90 of his total custody,” said Navlakha’s lawyer, Yug Mohit Chaudhry.
Both the applications are scheduled for hearing on June 26 before the special NIA court. Interestingly, the developments come at a time when Navlakha, who is in judicial custody till July 3, spoke to his partner Sehba Hussain alleged that the conditions where prisoners are kept under quarantine in the jail were overcrowded and unhygienic
“We are very worried about the conditions under which Navlakha is kept. We are requesting the government to put him under the proper facility. If there was no place and proper arrangement in prisons and quarantine centres of Mumbai, why was he shifted to Mumbai from Delhi? We will be urging courts to consider the conditions,” Husain said.
Interestingly, Navlakha before he surrendered had in an open letter written, ‘I can now begin to face the actual legal process, which accompanies cases where provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked. Such Acts turn the normal jurisprudence upside down. No longer is it the axiom that ‘a person is innocent unless proven guilty’. In fact, under such Acts, ‘an accused is guilty unless proven innocent’.
‘Draconian provisions of UAPA are not accompanied by stricter procedures regarding evidence, especially electronic, considering the stringent punishment provided for under the Act; the procedures, which otherwise provide tighter rules regarding evidence, are instead made elastic. Under this double whammy, jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception. In this Kafkaesque domain, the process itself becomes punishment,’ he had further gone on to write.