The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would place civil liberties defender Gautam Navlakha under “house arrest”, rejecting the National Investigative Agency’s plea that the 70-year-old accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case is a threat to national security.
A bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy dared the government to take action against corrupt officials who, the court felt, were a bigger threat to the country’s security.
“I don’t think they (the rights activists) want to destroy the country. People who destroy the country, do you want me to tell who they are? The people who are corrupt,” Justice Joseph told the government counsel.
“You know what happens when you go to government offices? Who is taking action against the corrupt? Crores of rupees are collected but they get away,” Justice Joseph added.
The bench made the oral observation when additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju opposed its suggestion to keep Navlakha under house arrest. He contended that the activist had links with Maoists, Kashmiri terrorists and the Islamic State.
But Justice Josepth said: “He is a 70-year-old man. We don’t know how long he will live. Certainly, he is going towards the inevitable. It is not that we are going to release him on bail. He is not going to enjoy the default bail which comrade Sudha (Sudha Bharadwaj) got (the NIA had failed to file the chargesheet against her in time).
“We are aware of the case. We are conscious that we have to tread carefully. We agree that house arrest as a form of arrest has to be used carefully by courts. “We are not concerned about what restrictions you would like to place. If he does something, he will lose his freedom. Put whatever restrictions you want. It is not that he is going to destroy the country. He is not in the best of health. Let him remain under house arrest for some days. Let’s try to work it out.”
The bench noted that the chargesheet was filed way back in 2020 and the trial was yet to commence. In India, “house arrest”, which allows detention at home under the surveillance of the investigating agency, is not a common feature.
Delhi High Court had ordered Navlakha’s house arrest briefly before he was sent back to jail. Referring to the records, the court pointed out that the activist is accused of having links with terrorists and the IS. “How do you connect the dots? ISIS and Gautam. What is the link? Justice Joseph asked. The bench said it would pass appropriate orders on Thursday.
The Bhima-Koregaon case accused have been termed Maoist sympathisers and are charged with inciting violence in 2018 after the celebration of the 200th anniversary of a battle in which the forces of the Brahmin Peshwas were routed by the East India Company’s Dalit troops.