Bhima Koregaon case: Bombay HC grants Sudha Bharadwaj bail

The activist had spent three years behind bars and applied for default bail; court rejected bail for eight others

Sudha Bharadwaj

In a bitter-sweet development in the Bhima Koregaon case, activist Sudha Bharadwaj was granted bail by the Bombay High Court on December 1, 2021. However, bail pleas of eight other accused in the case were rejected. These include Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling and Varavara Rao.

Bharadwaj will next be produced before a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court on December 8, for determining bail conditions before she is released from jail. Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar had been hearing her plea for default bail, and had reserved judgment in August. Bharadwaj had sought default bail under section 167 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The section deals with the jurisdiction of a judge who is either trying the case or authorising detention of the accused.

Bharadwaj, through her counsel Advocate Yug Chaudhry, sought for the setting aside of an order passed by Additional Sessions Judge KD Vadane on the grounds that Vadane had not been appointed as a special judge under the NIA Act. It was Judge Vadane’s 2018 order that extended the time for filing a chargesheet. A chargesheet needs to be filed within 90 days of detention, but because of the impugned order Bharadwaj was forced to remain behind bars despite the lapse of the deadline. The trial court also took cognizance of a 1800-page supplementary chargesheet in February 2019, which the petitioners contend should not have been permitted given the previous argument related to the original chargesheet.

The state government, represented by Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, meanwhile argued that the NIA judge was needed only at the trial stage, and not the pre-trial stage. Arguing for the NIA, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, opposed the default bail plea, claiming the 90-day extension granted to Pune Police in 2018 to file a chargesheet in the case did not cause any prejudice to the rights of the accused.

It is noteworthy that trial in this high-profile case, where nearly a dozen activists and human rights defenders are facing charges under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), is yet to commence. One of the accused, Jesuit priest and Adivasi rights activist Fr. Stan Swamy, has already passed away. Sudha Bharadwaj herself, spent four birthdays in jail and recently turned 60 while still behind bars. She was arrested on August 28, 2018 and has been lodged in Byculla jail since then.

Sudha Bharadwaj has been associated with the trade union movement in Chhattisgarh for more than 25 years, and she is also the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and a member of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). She has been accused of criminal conspiracy, sedition under the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act charges of funding a terrorist activity, conspiracy, being a member of terrorist gang or organisation, and supporting a terrorist organisation.

The complete order may be read here:



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