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The Supreme Court also directed Maharashtra Govt to produce material collected against Gautam Navlakha

The Supreme Court today – Friday, Oct 4 – extended the interim protection from arrest for journalist and rights activist Gautam Navlakha till October 15 in the Elgaar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon violence case in Pune.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta also directed the Maharashtra government to produce the material collected against Navlakha during the probe during the next hearing on October 15.

The bench was hearing Navlakha’s plea challenging the Bombay High Court’s rejection of his plea to quash the FIR against him in the case.

Navlakha’s plea in Supreme Court saw a series of recusals by judges, starting with Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi. None of the judges gave any reason for recusing themselves.

On Thursday, Justice Bhat became the fifth Supreme Court judge to recuse himself from hearing Navlakha’s petition.

Navlakha’s petition had come up before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on September 30. The CJI recused without ascribing any reason. It was listed the next day before the bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai. All three judges recused, following which it was listed for Thursday before the bench headed by Justice Mishra. It was Justice Bhat’s turn to recuse himself.

Pune Police had registered an FIR against Navlakha and four others — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj — in January 2018 after the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017, that had allegedly triggered violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune district the next day.

The police alleged Navlakha and others accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards toppling the government. They are accused of conspiring to foment the Bhima Koregaon clashes at an event held in Pune on December 31, 2017, called Elgar Parishad.

The accused were booked under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.

Navlakha has denied the charges and called it a political ploy to muzzle dissent. His lawyers have argued that the charges are without substance or proof.

Navlakha said he did not belong to any banned organisation and had “raised only issues of civil rights”. He added, “The entire case is based on documents and statements by co-accused.”

The Maharashtra government had earlier filed a caveat in the matter seeking to be heard before any orders are passed. On September 13, the high court had refused to quash the FIR lodged against him in the 2017 Koregaon-Bhima case and for having alleged Maoist links, noting that there was prima facie substance in the case.

The high court had said, “Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required”. The high court had, however, extended the protection from arrest to Navlakha for a period of three weeks to enable him to approach the Supreme Court to file an appeal against its order.

Besides Navlakha, four others — Varavara Rao, a poet-activist; Arun Ferreira,lawyer; Vernon Gonsalves, an activist; and Sudha Bharadwaj, another civil rights activist — are accused in the case.

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