The Supreme Court, on November 10, granted journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha who is one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, his request for house arrest, albeit with rather stringent conditions. The bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, during the hearings, was inclined towards granting Navlakha’s request for house arrest. While he has been ordered to be placed under house arrest now under some severely stringent restrictions, the same are applicable only until December 13 which is the next date of hearing and the court will decide whether to continue his custody in house arrest and on the same conditions, on that date.
The court noted that while chargesheet has been filed against Navlakha on October 9, 2020 no charges were yet framed against him and that he has been in custody as an undertrial prisoner since April 14, 2020. The court evaluated the medical reports but the Additional Solicitor General SV Raju pointed out that Navlakha insisted that his treatment be carried out at Jaslok Hospital where his brother-in-law is a doctor and thus his medical reports are afflicted with the vice of bias and hence the doctor recommendation merit rejection. Senior Advocate Mr. Kapil Sibal countered this contention by stating that the doctor’s recommendations have their foundation in scientific material unearthed through investigations carried out at the hospital which have been, in fact, carried out by other doctors.
In April, the Bombay High Court had denied Navlakha’s plea to be placed under house arrest while referring to Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency 2021 SCC Online SC 382 whereby the Supreme Court had laid down certain criteria for considering request of house arrest,
“151. We observe that under Section 167 in appropriate cases it will be open to courts to order house arrest. As to its employment, without being exhaustive, we may indicate criteria like age, health condition and the antecedents of the accused, the nature of crime, the need for other forms of custody and the ability to enforce the terms of the house arrest. We would also indicate under Section 309 also that judicial custody being custody ordered, subject to following the criteria, the courts will be free to employ it in deserving and suitable cases.”
The Supreme Court was ‘mystified’ as to why the High Court did not consider Navlakha’s age (70) as a basis to consider his application for house arrest. “The state of health of the petitioner also cannot be described at any rate as being perfect. Far from it, as we have noticed the multiple health issues with which the petitioner is confronted,” the court observed.
The court was also dissatisfied with the argument put by the ASG that Navlakha’s brother-in-law being the one of the doctors in his case was afflicted with the vice of bias. “Quite apart from the fact that the Doctor in question is a medical professional, his observations are based on investigations which have been carried out by the other Doctors. Therefore, they do not prima facie, at least, appeal to us as reasons for rejecting the medical report which, in fact, was based on evidence and contain inputs of the Orthopedist Dr S. Kothari,” the court said.
The court held that as far as his health is concerned, he may not be unjustified in making the request for house arrest. While considering his request, the court noted that the chargesheet was filed in 2020; charges have not yet been framed and that it is unlikely that trial will start or will make any progress towards culmination in the foreseeable future. It further noted that Navlakha has been in custody since 2020 and also that Navlakha had been placed under house arrest before and there was no complaint of his conduct then. “This means, prima facie, there does not appear to have been any case that he will misuse the facility of house arrest,” the court observed.
Conditions for house arrest
The court stated that the house arrest would be granted subject to Navlakha depositing a sum of Rs. 2.4 lakhs with Navi Mumbai Police Commissioner which is a rough estimate of expenses which would be borne by the State for making available police personnel at his house arrest location. Additionally, he shall provide local surety for Rs. 2 lakhs.
The following conditions have been laid out:
Sahba Husain alone is allowed to reside with the petitioner, along with one house keeping staff
The petitioner will not use mobile phone, internet, computer, laptop or any other communicating device while he is in house arrest
The petitioner will be permitted to use the mobile phone which may be provided by the police personnel on duty once in a day, to be used for 10 minutes only and only in the presence of police personnel.
The mobile of the companion will not have internet facility. It shall be, in other words, the basic device which facilitates only the making of a phone call and SMS.
The State is allowed to carry out surveillance and recording of the phone calls being made by the companion.
The companion shall not delete the details about phone calls or any message sent by using the SMS facility.
The petitioner will be allowed to meet only two family members once a week for 3 hours, list of whom shall be provided to the police.
CCTV cameras will be installed at the expense of the petitioner at the entrance and exit of the residence.
Before the petitioner is allowed to enter into house arrest, the house will be screened so that prior to occupying the house, no electronic gadgets such as phone, Ipad, internet, laptop are there which shall not be permitted inside even when visitors are allowed as per the order we have passed.
The petitioner is permitted to use TV which is not a smart TV or a TV which is internet based. He also will have access to newspapers.
The petitioner will not, in any manner, attempt to influence any of the witnesses in the case.
On a need basis, the police can inspect the premises and carry out search/inspection; however, such searches should not amount to abuse and should not harass the petitioner.
The petitioner is permitted to walk outside, if he wants to, in the company of police personnel, as may be found necessary, without engaging in conversation with anyone.
The petitioner can have access to one lawyer and interact with him/her as per terms of the jail manual
The petitioner will not interact with the media
The court also directed the police that in case of a medical emergency, the police will make all arrangements to make available medical facilities at the suitable hospital and the police officers will necessarily cooperate in case the petitioner needs to be taken to a hospital if such need arises.
Also, since the ASG raised doubts about the doctor at Jaslok Hospital being kin of the petitioner, the court directed that Navlakha be taken for medical examination at KEM Hospital before next hearing, to be held on December 13.
The order may be read here:
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