The Bombay High Court Wednesday concluded the hearing and reserved its verdict in the default bail plea of activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, who is currently lodged in Byculla women’s prison, in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case.
A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice N J Jamadar was hearing Bharadwaj’s plea filed through advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry.
While referring to responses filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act availed from the High Court Registry, Chaudhry alleged that Additional Sessions Judge K D Vadane of the trial court in Pune was not designated to hear matters regarding scheduled offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Bharadwaj’s plea also alleged that the judge was not authorised as a “special judge” to take cognizance of the supplementary chargesheet filed by Pune Police in February 2019.
Chaudhry referred to a recent Supreme Court judgement and said that special courts alone have exclusive jurisdiction to try UAPA offences.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni opposed the argument and said Bharadwaj’s counsel referred to selective portions of the Apex Court verdict favourable to his case and not the judgment in its entirety as the case before the SC was different from Bharadwaj’s case.
“There are elementary principles of reading a judgment. You cannot read a few paragraphs and say I have succeeded in freeing (accused persons involved in) Naxalite activities,” Kumbhakoni said.
The state government further said although Bharadwaj was booked under UAPA, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act stipulated the need of a special judge only at the time of trial, when the case is being probed by the central agency, and not during pre-trial proceedings.
Kumbhakoni said Bharadwaj’s claims were misconceived, as there was no procedural lapse in the sessions judge conducting the proceedings. He said that as long as the investigation in a case was not assigned to the NIA, the proceedings pertaining to the same could continue before a regular court and sought dismissal of the plea. He added special courts could only hear matters which are being investigated by the NIA.
Kumbhakoni said that a special NIA Court could come into picture only after the case was transferred to NIA on January 24, 2020 as per Centre’s order and more specifically, from February 12, 2020, when Pune Police actually handed over the case to NIA.
The NIA, through Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, opposed the default bail plea and said the 90-day extension granted to Pune Police in 2018 by a trial court to file a chargesheet in the case did not cause any prejudice to the rights of the accused.
The bench then concluded the hearing and reserved its ruling, which will be pronounced in due course.
The court will hear in due course a plea filed by eight other accused in the Elgaar Parishad case challenging the June 2019 order of the Pune sessions court rejecting their default bail pleas. The accused include Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling and Varavara Rao.