Image: V. Sreenivasa Murthy / The Hindu
During the hearing of his appeal petition for bail before the Bombay High Court, Dr. Anand Teltumbde, the 71-year-old Dalit scholar, academic and activist charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (‘UAPA’) for allegedly being a senior member of the banned organization, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (‘CPI (Maoist’), has highlighted several of the serious contradictions in the narrative presented by the prosecution.
These contradictions revolve around the prosecution’s story and witness statements, and unsubstantiated allegations of Dr. Teltumbde’s involvement with the CPI (Maoist) and the planning of Elgar Parishad.
The investigation conducted by Swargate Police Station, Pune has been analysed in depth: the prosecution had first alleged that Dr. Teltumbde and other accused persons organised the Elgar Parishad meeting in Pune on December 31, 2017, through the Bhima Koregaon Shauryadin Prerna Abhiyan (‘BKSPA’) to further the agenda of the banned outfit. However, according to the petition, there was further embellishment to these facts after the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’). The prosecution taken over by the NIA thereafter alleged that the Elgar Parishad was organised by Dalit and human rights organisations, during which Dr. Teltumbde and other accused persons made attempts to gather a crowd in order to create “hatred against the government”.
Drawing out this contradiction, the petition pointed out that the charge sheet filed by the NIA does not mention BKSPA at all as a frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist), or that that the Elgar Parishad was organised on the directions of the CPI (Maoist).
Further, Anand Teltumbde’s appeal petition highlighted that the statements of persons recorded under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the Criminal Procedure Code. These witnesses named in the list of prosecution witnesses stated that that the donations for the Elgar Parishad were made by volunteers and individuals from the public. The statements of the witnesses, thus, contradict the story of the prosecution that the program was funded by the CPI (Maoist) to further its own agenda, the petition stated.
In his petition, Dr. Teltumbde also denied the prosecution’s allegation that he was a convenor of the Elgar Parishad. The petition pointed out that he disagreed with the contents of the pamphlets and agendas of the Elgar Parishad, and wrote an article (which is available in the public domain) that clearly established the intellectual independence and disconnect of Dr. Teltumbde with both the Elgar Parishad or the subsequent events/protests at Bhima Koregaon. The absence of evidence or witness statements indicating his involvement as a convenor or in the planning of the Elgar Parishad therefore asserted in the petition.
The bail petition vehemently denied the prosecution’s allegation of Dr. Teltumbde’s participation in the event of Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017. According to the petition, Dr. Teltumbde had left Pune, where the event was held, before it had even commenced. Significantly, the appeal petition pointed out that none of the witnesses support the prosecution’s claims of hateful or provocative speeches made by any of the performers at Elgar Parishad.
By an order dated January 24, 2020, the Union Government issued an order directing the NIA to take up the investigation of the present case. This was two years after the Elgar Parishad and the matter had been investigated by the Pune police. Teltumbde, in his application, stated that the NIA has failed to provide any evidence of the rationale behind including (adding) offences under the Indian Penal Code and UAPA, and dropping them “in an arbitrary manner without any application of mind”.
The petition has also noted that in the second supplementary charge sheet, the NIA has referred to lengthy quotes, documents, books, and articles explaining the working of the CPI (Maoist), freely available on the internet, and alleged the materials to be incriminating, as seized from co-accused, researcher and activist Rona Wilson. The appeal petition, however, remarked that the prosecution (NIA) has failed to specify any act or omission that can be attributed to Dr. Teltumbde or other co-accused persons in formulating, directing, participating, or implementing the policy of CPI (Maoist).
Further, the petition denied the prosecution’s allegation of Dr. Teltumbde’s membership to a frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist) and/or furthering or implementing the ideology of the CPI (Maoist). Rejecting the prosecution’s claim that the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights and the Anuradha Gandhy Memorial Committee are frontal organisations of the CPI (Maoist), the petition emphasised that the two organisations are not banned under any law as frontal organisations of the CPI (Maoist).
The petition provides an in-depth explanation refuting the prosecution’s allegations of Dr. Teltumbde’s role in propagating the agenda of CPI (Maoist) through international conferences, communication with other co-accused persons, receiving funds from the CPI (Maoist) and conducting fact-finding missions as a part of frontal organisations of the CPI (Maoist).
Dr Teltumbde, as the appellant had prayed that since almost all the evidence is in the form of electronic records, where most of the incriminating documents and letters are typed and without any signature, the requirements under Sections 67 (proof of signature and handwriting of person alleged to have signed or written document produced) and 73 (comparison of signature, writing or seal with others admitted or proved) of the Indian Evidence Act are not complied with.
The petition has referred to the writ petition filed by Wilson, on whose computer the incriminating evidence was found. According to Wilson’s petition, through remote access, malware was installed on his computer through which incriminating evidence was planted. The petition has highlighted the detailed reports by M/s Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensics firm, on the manner in which the malware came to be planted and how it was used for the delivery of documents and other acts.
Referring to the incriminating letters as ‘false and fabricated’, the petition further claims that the prosecution has failed to corroborate the content(s) of the letters and has not concluded an investigation to verify the veracity of the documents.
Therefore, according to the bail plea, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that a prima facie case is established against Dr. Teltumbde. The petition states that there is no evidence that corroborates the contents of the alleged letters or the statements of the witnesses. It further emphasised that the entire evidence is hearsay, based on suspicions, and hence, inadmissible.
The petition also notes that the charge sheet filed in the present case runs to thousands of pages and the prosecution intends to examine over 200 witnesses. Pleading Dr. Teltumbde’s fundamental right to a speedy trial, the bail application apprehends that the trial will take years to complete and that the denial of Dr. Teltumbde’s bail will mean his continued incarceration for years. This is a serious assault on personal liberty, the petition argues.
In his bail petition, Dr. Teltumbde submitted that he is targeted by the investigating agency on account of his writings and work on caste and land struggles, and the violation of democratic rights of the marginalised in India. Dr. Teltumbde further contended in his petition that he does not have any criminal antecedents, and since the investigation is over and the chargesheet has been filed, no purpose will be served in keeping him in custody.
In conclusion, the petition prayed to quash the order of the Special Court dated July 12, 2020, and to release the appellant on bail on such terms and conditions as the high court deems fit.
In October 2019, bail applications of three social activists, including Dr Teltumbde were rejected by the Bombay High Court
In April 2020, Dr. Teltumbde had to surrender to the NIA for allegedly being a senior member of the banned CPI (Maoist) and working in urban areas.
In September 2021, a special NIA court rejected Dr. Teltumbde’s bail on medical grounds. Dr. Teltumbde had raised the contention that he suffered from chronic asthma, chronic cervical spondylitis, supraspinatus tendinopathy, and prostatomegaly.
On December 1, 2021, the special NIA court denied Dr. Teltumbde’s interim bail application to be with his 90-year-old mother in the wake of the death of his brother Milind Teltumbde, a top Naxal leader, in an encounter with security forces. On March 6 this year, the Bombay High Court granted the activist’s plea to visit his mother, while also directing the Maharashtra government to consider Dr. Teltumbde’s health in respect of his mode of conveyance.
On March 31, Dr. Teltumbde moved the Bombay high court with the plea that he was wrongly charged under the UAPA, and contended that the NIA had failed to directly attribute to him any particular act of violence in the actual case. In April, Dr. Teltumbde approached the NIA’s special court seeking discharge against the charges imposed on him on the ground that the NIA had not yet produced any material before the court to actually prove that he was a member of the CPI (Maoist).
Dr. Teltumbde is currently lodged at Taloja Central jail, and is awaiting trial.
On November 11, a division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justices A.S. Gadkari and Milind N. Jadhav concluded hearing arguments pertaining to Dr. Teltumbde’s appeal challenging his rejection of bail by the NIA special court in July last year.
The division bench thereafter reserved the matter for orders. On November 18, 2022 the bench of the Bombay High Court granted bail to Dr Anand Teltumbde on merits.
Senior counsel Mihir Desai and advocate Ms Devyani Kulkarni appeared for Dr Teltumbde.