Extending the interim protection from arrest granted to rights activist Gautam Navlakha, the Supreme Court Friday directed the Maharashtra government to produce the material it had collected against him while investigating the FIR naming him, among others, for the Elgaar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune last year.
The bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said the matter required detailed hearing. It fixed October 15 for hearing Navlakha’s petition challenging the Bombay High Court’s rejection of his plea to quash the FIR. It said the protection granted to him by the Bombay High Court will continue till then, although this was opposed by advocate Nishant Katneshwarkar who appeared for Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, sources in the Supreme Court said that on October 1, when Navlakha’s matter was taken up by a three-judge bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, only Justice Gavai had recused, and not all three judges.
Subsequently, as the impression given was that the bench was for Jammu and Kashmir matters, it was deemed fit to list it before another bench the very next working day, the sources said, adding that the urgency pleaded by Navlakha’s counsel was also taken into account while assigning the matter to a different bench.
On Friday, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Navlakha, said he was a member of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and some may consider his views extreme. “It is my (Navlakha’s) job to raise civil rights issues,” he said.
Singhvi said the government had in the past engaged Navlakha to communicate with Maoists, and that even Maoists disliked some of his views. He had criticised both the government and Maoists for loss of lives, he said. “I have unequivocally condemned violence.” Navlakha, he said, was an “eminent journalist” and was entitled to his belief as long as it does not become secession or spread disaffection or threaten the territorial integrity of the nation.
Singhvi said even police did not have a case that he was a member of any banned outfit and had, therefore, not invoked Section 10 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which deals with membership of a banned outfit. The only case was that of six letters recovered by police, one allegedly seized from his computer, Singhvi said, adding that there was nothing incriminating and asked “is this enough to arrest me?”
Justice Mishra said UAPA provisions could not be read in isolation. He said terrorist organisations do not keep a membership register. What was the test to know, he asked, whether a person who was associated with an outfit before it was banned continued to be on its rolls.
Justice Mishra said the court will have to see the material collected during the investigation and asked the prosecution to produce it.
The Bombay High Court, while dismissing Navlakha’s petition, had said it was satisfied that the investigating agency had material to connect the petitioner to the crime. It, however, granted him protection from arrest for three weeks so that he could appeal the order in the Supreme Court.