The Supreme Court has asked the designated National Investigation Agency (NIA) court hearing the Bhima Koregaon violence case to decide on framing of charges against the accused charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 for alleged Maoist links, within three months.
Noting that four accused in the case are yet to be arrested, a bench presided by Justice U U Lalit also asked the NIA to approach the trial court to segregate their trial from that of the 15 accused who have already been arrested so that trial can begin in the case and also to take steps to get the absconding accused declared proclaimed offenders.
The bench comprising Justices U U Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing a plea Thursday by one of the accused, Vernon Gonsalves, seeking bail in the case. The Bombay High Court had earlier rejected his bail plea.
The court pointed out that some of the accused have also filed applications seeking discharge and directed that they too be decided simultaneously. “Let the entire exercise be undertaken in three months,” said the SC.
Gonsalves contended in his plea that he has been in jail since August 2018 but the trial was yet to begin. He also said that some of the co-accused had already been granted bail.
Appearing for Gonsalves, Senior Advocate Rebecca John argued that there was no material in the supplementary chargesheet that would indict him and added that he would have been given bail but for the UAPA charges.
Countering this, Additional Solicitor General S V Raju submitted that Gonsalves was waging war against the state and the accused were communicating using encrypted pen drives and codes and that assistance of forensic experts had to be taken to decode the same. Explaining the reasons for the delay in the trial, he said this was because some of the accused were yet to be arrested and some had filed discharge applications.
The bench, meanwhile, noted that Gonsalves was not a first-time offender and had earlier been convicted for being a member of a banned outfit.
Pointing out that it usually gives the benefit of doubt to first-time offenders, the bench remarked “in your case you have been convicted for being part of a banned organisation. You are not strictly an innocent person”.
Two of the accused in the case – Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj – are currently on bail.