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SC approves Navlakha's house arrest, with strict conditions

Source: PTI
Last updated on: November 10, 2022 18:54 IST
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Activist Gautam Navlakha, lodged in Navi Mumbai's Taloja prison in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, was allowed by the Supreme Court on Thursday to be placed under house arrest owing to his deteriorating health.

Noting that the activist has been in custody since April 14, 2020, and prima facie there is no reason to reject his medical report, it said Navlakha does not have any criminal background except this case and even the Government of India had appointed him as interlocutor to hold talks with Maoists.

Putting a number of conditions, including a deposit of Rs 2.4 lakh as expenses for security, a bench of Justice K M Joseph and Justice Hrishikesh Roy said the order to place the 70-year-old activist under house arrest for a month in Mumbai should be implemented within 48 hours.

"Trial of the case is unlikely to take place in the near future. Even the charges have not been framed. It is not in dispute that apart from this case the petitioner does not have any criminal background at all.

"In 2011, the service of the petitioner was used as an interlocutor to mediate with the extremists for securing the release of people kidnapped by Maoists. We think that we should allow the petitioner to be allowed to be placed under house arrest, to begin with, for a period of one month. The respondents will carry out the necessary evaluation of the premises indicated by us," the bench said.

 

It also said Navlakha will not be allowed to use a computer and the Internet during his house arrest.

"Petitioner will not use a computer, Internet or any other communication device while under house arrest. He will, however, be permitted to use a mobile phone without Internet, provided by police personnel on duty, once a day for 10 minutes in the presence of the police," the bench said.

The apex court also said that Navlakha shall not be allowed to leave Mumbai and he will not attempt, in any manner, to influence witnesses during his house arrest.

Television and newspapers will be allowed, but these cannot be Internet-based, it said.

It allowed the Maharashtra police to search and inspect the residence and said the accommodation would be under surveillance.

Accepting the restriction put forward by Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, the bench said CCTV cameras will be installed outside the rooms and at entry and exit points of his house.

Navlakha would not be allowed to leave the house except for walks in the company of police personnel, it said. He would also be permitted to meet his lawyers as per jail manual rules and intimate police personnel in case of a medical emergency, the apex court said.

The matter is now listed for hearing in the second week of December and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been asked to obtain a fresh medical report in the meantime.

"We observe that the petitioner and companion are expected to scrupulously adhere to all conditions. Any deviation will be viewed seriously and may entail immediate cancellation of the order," the bench said.

As the hearing commenced on Thursday, Raju said there was a twist in the tale. "We have reason to believe that the medical report is tainted," he said.

He said the medical report filed by the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai may be "tainted" as Navlakha's brother-in-law, a doctor, was part of the medical board.

The top court, however, said, "Mr Raju, we have gone through the report. It is a report given by various doctors of various disciplines. You are trying to cast a prejudice by pointing out that one of the doctors is related."

"You are saying that since he is related so therefore he will give a biased report. It can't be. Don't bring it to that level. Don't say that throw the report away. Mr Raju, you have to be responsible for your submission. Yesterday you said you had no problem in providing a mattress, cot, doctor etc. Don't bring all this.

"What did the doctor say? That he needs a mattress, has he said he needs something else. Suppose he said that Navlakha needs hospitalisation and cannot be allowed to remain in jail. Then we would have said that he is trying to overreach and his relationship is influencing him," the bench said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Navlakha, said he was surprised.

"Will a doctor now be required to give up on their oath? What is he arguing? You first attack the man and now the doctors. There are 12 doctors involved in this. Can anybody make a submission like this, especially the Government of India? Sibal said.

Raju said there is a lurking suspicion that this medical report might be wrong. Sibal had said on Wednesday that the medical reports showed there was no possibility of him being treated in jail.

Raju had stoutly opposed the application and submitted that Navlakha's health condition was not so bad that he be placed under house arrest.

The activist appealed to the apex court against the April 26 order of the Bombay high court dismissing his plea for house arrest over apprehensions of lack of adequate medical and other basic facilities in Taloja jail near Mumbai, where he is lodged.

The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claim triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.

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