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The Supreme Court on Friday gave social activist Gautam Navlakha interim protection from arrest till October 15 in the Bhima Koregaon case. Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta heard Navlakha’s petition on Friday after five judges of the top court recused themselves from the case in the last three days.

The hearing began just hours before the Bombay high court’s protection against arrest for him was to end. Navlakha’s request to cancel a first information report (FIR) filed against him in the January 1, 2018 caste clashes at Bhima-Koregaon had been rejected by the Bombay High Court. The high court had, however, barred the police from arresting him for a month. That was to end today.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi,  appearing for Navlakha submitted that petitioner was requested by the government to converse between Maoists and the government. He further submitted that his client had expressly supported non violence. The allegations are just that the appellant was in proximity with the CPI Maoists, no allegations as to involvement in violence. He further submits that the appellant has been used as channel of communication by the government.

The appellant is an eminent journalist and is a member of PUDR as a civil rights activist (the views of CUPDR may be considered extreme by many of the people in the court) but however that is not the test of determination.

The police had alleged that Navlakha and others accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards overthrowing the government. The accused were booked under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.

In court, 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 Bhima Koregaon 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.

On Thursday, Justice S Ravindra Bhat became the fifth apex court judge to recuse himself from hearing a plea filed by the civil rights activist. On September 30, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had recused himself from hearing Navlakha’s plea. Later on October 1, the three judges of a bench — justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai — had also recused themselves from hearing the case.

—India Legal Bureau

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