The Bombay High Court has reserved its order in the plea filed by Bhima Koregaon case accused Gautam Navlakha. He approached the court seeking default bail on the ground that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has not filed its chargesheet within the prescribed limit of 90 days as per Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal represented the petitioner Gautam Navalakha. Additional Solicitor General SC Raju appeared for the NIA.
Sibal contended that Navlakha’s total custody period exceeded the upper limit of 90 days without a chargesheet being filed against him or any extension being provided. Hence, he was entitled to default bail, reported Bar & Bench. He argued that the NIA had erred in excluding the period of 34 days spent in house arrest while calculating the total custody period.
The primary issue before the High Court was to determine whether the time period of Navlakha’s house arrest is to be included in the period of custody, in which case he would qualify for default bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.
Section 167(2) states that an accused person will be released from custody by the Magistrate in the event that the custody period extends the maximum period of 90 days without a charge sheet filed/ final report being filed against him.
ASG Raju (appearing for the NIA), opposed the application, contending that the Special Court had rightfully held that Navlakha’s house arrest did not constitute ‘detention’. He also argued that during house arrest Gautam Navlakha was not accessible for interrogation as is the case with regular custody. “He was neither in custody nor out on bail, he was a free man”, remarked the ASG.
The Division Bench of Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik directed the counsels of parties to submit their written statements within a week and reserved the matter for orders.
Timeline of Navlakha’s legal engagement
August 28, 2018- He was arrested at Pune after an FIR was registered against him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Delhi High court had intervened the same day and directed him to be kept under house arrest.
October 1, 2018- The Delhi High Court quashed his arrest. Thereafter, Navalakha filed proceedings and appeals seeking to quash the FIR and for pre-arrest bail.
April 8, 2020- The Supreme Court directed him to surrender within one week making it clear that there will not be further extension of time. He was directed to comply with the top court’s March 16 order which ordered for his surrender within three weeks.
April 14, 2020- He surrendered before the NIA and was remanded to police custody.
April 25, 2020- He was sent to judicial custody (has been extended since then)
June 29, 2020- NIA filed an application for extension of time for filing the charge sheet.
July 12, 2020- The Special NIA Court, Mumbai rejected his statutory bail application. He then approached the Bombay High Court challenging this order.