The Delhi high court has pulled up the probe agency, National Investigation Agency, for acting in 'unseemly haste' in taking away civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha, accused in Bhima Koregaon violence case, from the national capital to Mumbai even when his interim bail plea was pending in New Delhi.
Justice Anup J Bhambhani, who conducted the hearing through video conferencing, said there was an evident haste shown by the NIA in moving pleas across Mumbai and Delhi over weekends and Gazetted holidays (Eid) and obtaining orders by e-mail, and 'whisking away' Navlakha to Mumbai, which has rendered these proceedings infructuous.
While the order was passed on Wednesday, it was made available on court's website on Thursday.
Navlakha, who had surrendered before the NIA (National Investigation Agency) on April 14 in pursuance to the Supreme Court's direction and was lodged in Tihar jail, was taken to Mumbai by train on May 26.
"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 of urgency is not brought to bear on the present proceedings," the high court said.
The high court noted that on the last date it had granted adequate time to the NIA to file its status report in response to the interim bail plea and the agency has filed an affidavit opposing the plea.
"Prima facie it appears that while on the last date, this court had granted adequate time to the NIA to file its status report in response to the interim bail plea and while the NIA has filed an affidavit opposing that plea, the NIA has acted in unseemly haste to instead remove the applicant out of the very Jurisdiction of this court and, if the applicant is right, without even Informing the Special Judge (NIA), Mumbai or the Special Judge (NIA), Delhi of the pendency of the present proceedings," the high court said.
The high court had earlier sought response of the NIA on a plea by 67-year-old Navlakha who said given his advanced age, he was vulnerable to catching coronavirus or other infections, especially in a crowded environment like prison.
During the hearing, advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for Navlakha, told the court while the interim bail plea is pending, on May 23, NIA requested the special judge (NIA) Delhi to extend his judicial custody till June 22 and on May 24, a Sunday, an application was filed by the agency before Special Judge (NIA), Mumbai seeking his production warrants.
She said warrants were issued for his production before the Special Judge (NIA), Mumbai and an application was also moved before concerned Jail Superintendent at Tihar Jail on May 25, being a Gazetted holiday for EID, seeking a transit order to shift Navlakha from Delhi to Mumbai.
She said after the Special Judge (NIA), Delhi allowed this request, Navlakha was put on a train on May 26 and taken away to Mumbai where he is presently lodged in Taloja jail.
The counsel said the NIA did not disclose before the Special Judge (NIA), Mumbai or the Special Judge (NIA), Delhi about the pendency of bail plea.
She submitted that by moving the activist to Mumbai, which has suffered the highest number of infections and deaths due to COVID-19 virus, he has been exposed to even more serious health risk, while he was seeking interim bail to avoid that very risk.
The high court noted that in the May 22 hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the NIA, had submitted that the agency was planning to transfer Navlakha to Mumbai sometime soon in view of opening-up of air travel after obtaining orders from the competent court.
The high court, which conducted the hearing in two parts as the Investigating officer was not present in the first session, said it was necessary to call for his presence from NIA, Mumbai by video-conferencing to answer certain factual queries.
The high court noted that in the second session of the hearing, instead of the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi has appeared for the NIA and Superintendent of Police Vikram Khalate, the IO, has also joined.
While explaining the hurry for issuance of production warrants, the IO said he had moved an application before the principal district judge, Mumbai on May 23, which came for hearing the next day when the court issued the warrants, being unsure of the future course of events in relation to the lockdown.
The high court directed the IO to file before it an affidavit on the lines of response given by him and a copy of the proceedings relating to production warrants by the Mumbai court.
"The IO is also directed to place on record the report of the applicant's medical examination conducted once he reached Mumbai. Let the record of the application moved by the NIA before the Special Judge (NIA), Delhi seeking extension of the applicant's judicial remand be requisitioned from the concerned court," it said.
Tihar Jail Superintendent was also directed to provide a copy of the last medical status report of Navlakha and listed the matter for June 3.
In August 2018, Navlakha was arrested by the Pune Police from his Delhi residence following the violence at Koregaon Bhima village in Pune district on January 1, 2018.
The transit remand order was, however, set aside by the Delhi high court.