Human rights activists Gautam Navlakha | Photo: AFP
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday in an interim order permitted Gautam Navlakha, Bhima Koregaon accused case, to be placed under house arrest for a period of one month considering his health condition and old age.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy ordered Navlakha to deposit an amount of Rs 2.4 lakh as expenses to be incurred for his security cover when he is under house arrest. He shall deposit a demand draft of Rs 2.4 lakh by the name of Commissioner of Police, Navi Mumbai.
"We consider it appropriate to grant house arrest given his age. Still further, our attention is drawn to the multiple medical problems the petitioner is faced with, and that charges have not been framed in a trial that will not happen in the foreseeable future," the bench observed during the hearing.
Maharashtra government to carry out a necessary evaluation of the place where petitioner will be under house arrest, the bench ordered, adding that after evaluation petitioner shall be placed under house arrest within 48 hours.
Navlakha had moved the top court requesting that he be placed under house arrest instead of judicial custody in Taloja jail, Maharashtra.
Navlakha shall not use any mobile phone, laptop, communication device or gadget. He shall use the phone to be provided by police personnel on the duty. He will be able to use phone once a day for 10 minutes in the presence of the police.
A maximum of two family members can visit him once a week, for three hours, ordered the apex court.
It allowed Navlakha to live with his partner and Navlakha shall also not use the phone of his partner. His companion's mobile shall not have internet, a basic phone for making calls and SMS and she shall not delete calls or SMS.
The NIA can conduct surveillance into calls made by him and the companion said the bench.
The bench further said that armed escorts outside will ensure no misuse of house arrest. It said any deviation and misuse by Navlakha and his companion shall be viewed strictly upon being brought to the notice of this court, and may entail cancellation of the house arrest.
"He is been in custody since 2020. He was placed in house arrest in an earlier occasion... prima facie, no complaint that he misused earlier house arrest No criminal antecedents apart from this case against him... We would think that we should allow him to be under house arrest, at least, to begin with, for a period of one month," the bench said.
He shall be allowed the facility of television without internet and newspapers. Navlakha shall be permitted to meet his lawyers.
The apex court ordered that agencies are at liberty to keep inspecting the residence, however, it observed that this should not be a ruse to harass the petitioner.
He was not permitted to leave the house, except for walks in the company of police personnel and he will not engage with any person during such walks.
Navlakha to inform police officers on duty in case of a medical emergency, who will take him to a suitable hospital.
He shall not be allowed to leave Mumbai/Navi Mumbai.
The bench said that in view of the doubts expressed by Additional Solicitor General SV Rahi owing to the presence of Dr Kothari, who is the brother-in-law of the petitioner, he be taken for a medical evaluation at KEM Hospital and a report secured prior to the next date of hearing.
As the matter came up for hearing ASG Raju told the bench that there is a twist in the tale. "We have reason to believe that the medical report is tainted. The doctor at Jaslok hospital is his sister's husband. That doctor has at a senior position. Please see the medical report. We are investigating."
To this Justice Roy told Raju that he was trying to make an argument of prejudice, the doctor was one of many specialists in the team.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court while indicating that it will allow Navlakha to be put under house arrest because of his health condition, asked NIA to inform what restrictions it wants to be imposed on him.
Raju appearing for NIA had vehemently opposed Navlakha's plea saying his condition has been improved and there was no need to put him under house arrest.
The ASG alleged that Navlakha is in touch with Kashmiri extremists and ISI and read out some documents.
Earlier, the apex court had allowed the Superintendent of Taloja prison in Maharashtra to shift jailed activist Navlakha to Mumbai's Jaslok hospital for medical checkup and treatment.
It had said that receiving medical treatment is a fundamental right of a prisoner.
70-year-old Navlakha had told the bench that he has colon cancer and requires a colonoscopy and also check up for skin allergy and dental issues.
Navlakha had moved the top court challenging the April 26 order of the Bombay High Court which had dismissed his plea for house arrest over apprehensions of lack of adequate medical and other basic facilities in Taloja jail near Mumbai where he is currently lodged.
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".
He had approached the High Court saying the Taloja prison has poor facilities, overcrowded, and his medical condition deteriorated during his incarceration there.
Navlakha, one of the several civil liberties activists in the Bhima Koregaon case, has been booked under stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for an alleged conspiracy to topple the government.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had granted bail to 82-year-old activist P Varavara Rao in the case.