SC stays Gautam Navlakha’s bail proceedings at Delhi HC; NIA says HC acted without jurisdiction

The Delhi HC had deemed NIA’s decision to move Navlakha from Delhi to Mumbai “hasty” especially when his bail proceedings were pending before the court

Gautam Navlakha

Just a day before the bail hearing before Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court stepped in and granted a stay on the bail proceedings of human rights activist and journalist, Gautam Navlakha who has been accused under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for alleged Maoist links following the violence in Bhima Koregaon.

Earlier, Navlakha was denied bail by the apex court in March and subsequently he surrendered to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on April 14 after the Supreme Court refused to extend his plea in the light of COVID19.

His bail application on medical grounds was being heard before Justice Anup Bhambhani of the Delhi High Court . Navlakha’s application contended that in view of the precarious state of his health and advanced age, it was unsafe to keep him in prison during the pandemic. In the midst of the bail proceedings production warrant was sought from NIA court, Bombay and Navlakha was “hastily” transferred from Delhi to Mumbai via train and is currently lodged in Taloja jail.

The court found this movement of Navlakha to Mumbai to be hasty and called for presence of the Investigating Officer of the case from NIA, Mumbai by video-conferencing to answer certain factual queries. The court stated, “considering the evident haste shown by the NIA by moving applications across Mumbai and Delhi over weekends and Gazetted holidays and obtaining orders by e-mail, and ‘whisking away’ the applicant to Mumbai as it were, and thereby rendering the present proceedings infructuous, it is deemed necessary to call for the presence of the Investigating Officer of the case from NIA, Mumbai…”

The court added, “While ordinarily this court would not see too much cause for hurry in this case, in view of the inexplicable, frantic hurry shown by the NIA in moving the applicant from Delhi to Mumbai while this matter was pending and the NIA had itself sought time to file status report, this court does get a sense that all proceedings in this jurisdiction would be rendered utterly infructuous if an element of urgency is not brought to bear on the present proceedings.” The judge said that the NIA has acted in unseemly haste to remove the accused from the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court.

The single judge bench also asked for a copy of proceedings of issuance of production warrant before the NIA Court Mumbai, that warranted the movement of the accused from Delhi to Mumbai.

The NIA challenged this order of Delhi High Court stating, “an interim bail or bail concerning the UAPA offence can be heard only by a HC division bench in appeal from the orders of the special judges”. The Indian Express reported that the NIA said that the Delhi High Court did not have the jurisdiction to entertain interim bail plea of an accused charged by an authority beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the court and also one who was in judicial custody of NIA Court, Mumbai. It was also pointed out that the Supreme Court had denied bail to the accused on medical grounds earlier.

A Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and Indira Banerjee has issued notice to Navlakha and listed it for hearing on June 15. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for NIA contended that the Delhi High Court’s order demanding copy of proceedings seeking production warrant was patently illegal and without jurisdiction.

The case pertains to the violent incidents that followed the Elgar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon in Pune, Maharashtra, which was a Dalit organizations’ commemoration of 200th anniversary of Koregaon battle. It was alleged that the meeting was organised by persons having nexus with banned maoist organizations. The police chargesheet, reportedly, does not mention the name of Gautam Navlakha.

The Delhi High Court (impugned) order dated ay 27 can be read here.

The Supreme Court order dated June 2 can be read here.



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