Mahesh Raut, the youngest accused in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad Violence case, has been granted bail by the Bombay High Court. On September 21, 2023, a division bench of Justice AS Gadkari and Justice Sharmila Deshmukh passed the bail order.
As per Bar and Bench, the bench stated that “Prima facie section 13 (unlawful activities) and 38 (membership of terrorist organisation) of the UAPA are applicable and section 16 (terrorist act), 17 (funds raised for terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) are not made out.” The bench further provided that the bail conditions to be imposed on Mahesh Raut will be same as the ones imposed on Anand Temtumbe, who was another accused in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad Violence case.
It is essential to note that the Court stayed its bail order for one week after the National Investigation Authority (NIA) sought time to file appeal against the same before the Supreme Court. Notably, NIA had requested a stay of two weeks.
It is crucial to note here that Raut is the sixth person to get bail in the Bhima Koregaon case after Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. Notably, Varavara Rao had been granted bail on medical grounds in August 2022. Another accused under the same case, Gautam Navlakha, has been placed under house arrest after the Supreme Court order to that effect. Of the total, 8 are still in prison and Father Stan Swamy has passed away.
The case against Mahesh Raut-
Mahesh Sitaram Raut was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 for allegedly having Maoist links and indulging in criminal conspiracy related to the Bhima Koregaon riots. He was first accused by the police of plotting an assassination attempt against PM Modi and delivering speeches, sending emails and circulating pamphlets which reportedly sparked violence in January 2018.
Mahesh Raut was earlier denied bail by the Pune Session Court in 2019 and by the Special NIA Court in Mumbai in 2021. Raut had then moved the Bombay High Court, appealing against the rejection of bail by the NIA Court.
Arguments by counsel representing Raut: Senior Advocate Mihir Desai and Advocate Vijay Hiremath were representing Raut in the High Court. During the hearings, Advocate Desai had contended that National Investigating Agency (NIA) had built the case against Raut by relying on the two letters which were allegedly recovered from the computer of other two accused. He had submitted the court that neither the two letters were found from Mahesh Raut nor were they written or signed by Raut.
It was also argued by Desai that Raut had spent over 5 years in custody and deserved to be released since the trial was yet to begin. Additionally, Desai also sought parity with the high court’s order granting bail to Anand Teltumde in November 2022 and the Supreme Court’s order granting bail to Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in July 2023.
Arguments by counsel representing NIA: Additional Solicitor General, Devang Vyas, appearing for the National Investigation Agency had argued before the high court that Raut was a member of CPI Maoist and the letter recovered from the co-accused referred to the state as an enemy. Vyas had contended that the CPI Maoists work in a structured manner and it had undertaken fact fact-finding mission to propagate their ideology. He added that Bhima Koregaon was a larger conspiracy that attempted to topple the democratically elected government.
The counsel had argued that it was not justiciable for Raut, accused under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to seek bail on constitutional grounds when his acts are against the interests of the State and society and the unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India. Vyas had also relied upon evidence which allegedly showed that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had given Raut ₹5 lakh along with co-accused Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale. Lastly, Vyas had also provided that Raut was an active member of the CPI Maoist and he had recruited people to deploy them in the forest in furtherance of the activities of CPI Maoist.
As per a report in the LiveLaw, while Vyas had claimed that the CPI Maoist “created a scenario that led to violence at Bhima Koregaon where a person was killed”, the bench had clarified that ‘There was no intention to ‘kill’ the person. The person died in the riots.”
A timeline of the Bhima Koregaon case can be accessed here.
Who is Mahesh Raut?
Mahesh Raut had been arrested in June 2018 and has remained in custody since. He was just 31-years-old then. He had graduated from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2011 after which he did a fellowship on conflict zones. He is forest rights activist and a former fellow of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Rural Development Programme and worked with the Gadchiroli Collector.
A deep dive in to his work can be read here.