For Activist Gautam Navlakha, Supreme Court Relief On House Arrest

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Gautam Navlakha, 70, has not been moved out of prison even a week after the Supreme Court order

New Delhi:

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) today said the Supreme Court was “deliberately misled” when it allowed house arrest for activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Koregaon-Bhima case who is reportedly very unwell. After a sharp back-and-forth, the Supreme Court refused to recall its order but said “certain safeguards” are required during house arrest.

Gautam Navlakha, 70, has not been moved out of prison even a week after the Supreme Court order. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, raised concerns about the safety of the location chosen by Mr Navlakha’s team and urged the court to scrap the house arrest ruling.

The Supreme Court reacted sharply to the objections. “Is Solicitor General Mehta and ASG (Additional Solicitor General SV Raju) here to say that the police can’t keep a watch on an ailing 70-year-old man?”

When the NIA sought time till Monday, Justice KM Joseph snapped: “You think we cannot see through attempts to delay the case? For what purpose will we post on Monday? We are passing an order.”

As the agency alleged that Mr Navlakha has terror links, Justice Hrishikesh Roy said: “So? You say you cannot monitor then we will. When SG and ASG standing here saying can’t keep a 70-year-old ailing man in confinement. With all the might of the state… Is the state incapable of taking care? You can’t take care so let us take care.”

Mr Navlakha has been in jail since April 2020 in a case related to violence at Maharashtra’s Koregaon-Bhima on January 1 a day after alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at an Elgar Parishad conclave.

The Pune police had claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists.

Last week, responding to his request on health grounds, the Supreme Court allowed him house arrest for a month and said the order must be implemented within 48 hours.

But his release has been delayed. The NIA was “dragging its feet”, his lawyer alleged.

The activist’s medical condition argument “is a sham”, the NIA said. “We have moved an application to vacate the previous order. The facts are really disturbing. Everyone started with a presumption that Gautam Navlakha was not well,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said in court.

“He refused to go to three hospitals. Every time there was a health issue, he was taken to hospital, in some cases, he himself refused to go to hospital,” he said.

The Supreme Court questioned whether the government wanted a review of its house arrest order.

“I am discharging this duty with a heavy heart. There are several inmates… same age and same ailments… but they don’t have any luxury of home arrest,” said Mr Mehta. “Your lordships were deliberately misled.”

The anti-terror agency argued that the premise that was given for house arrest was a Communist Party of India (CPI) office.

Justice KM Joseph pointed out that the CPI was a recognised party of India. “What is the issue?” he questioned.

“If it does not shock you then what can I say,” said the Solicitor General.

“No, it does not shock us,” the Supreme Court replied.

Mr Mehta pressed on: “A person accused of indulging in a serious terrorist act being a Maoist is staying at some political party’s office? What has this institution being driven to?”

Justice Hrishikesh Roy said: “If you have any arguments on premises you can argue. Health and other issues you have already argued.”

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