Mumbai: An assistant sub-inspector deputed at Mumbai’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) has tested positive for COVID-19, the department informed the special NIA court on Saturday, April 25, while opposing the interim bail application filed by academic and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde who was arrested on April 14 amid the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus in the country.
Despite the NIA’s disclosure that an officer was infected, a special NIA court rejected Teltumbde’s interim bail application and sent him to judicial custody for 14 days. Teltumbde was moved to Arthur Road Jail in central Mumbai.
Teltumbde, who was recently arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad case of January 2018, was kept in the NIA office for the past 11 days where he was interrogated by different officers. The NIA has claimed that Teltumbde has not come in touch with the infected officer and soon after the officer’s health condition was known, Teltumbde underwent tests and was tested negative.
Teltumbde’s defence lawyers said that they stumbled upon the ASI’s health condition after Teltumbde’s wife Rama had visited him at NIA’s office to hand over a change of clothes.
“When Rama went to the NIA office in the morning, she heard some officers speak about their colleague having testing positive. She inquired and found out that the officer was reporting to work every day. Rama immediately informed us,” said one of the defence lawyers who appeared for Teltumbde on Saturday.
The court was informed about the officer testing positive only after the defence lawyers raised objections before the court, Teltumbde’s lawyer told The Wire.
Since Teltumbde has tested negative, the court allowed him to be moved into judicial custody.
Both Teltumbde’s family and his lawyers have expressed concern over his health and said that he is 70-year-old and already has several underlying health issues, including respiratory issues.
“As per the protocol, the NIA should have immediately quarantined him but instead they ferried him to the court in their car and even decided to move him to the jail which is already overcrowded,” said defence lawyer Satyanaranan Iyer.
Following the Supreme Court’s order on March 23, the Maharashtra state government had announced that it would soon release 11,000 incarcerated persons from the state’s 60 prisons. But over a month later, the home department has only released a little over 4,000 prisoners.
As per the February data, 36,713 persons are lodged at different prisons across the state and the release of 11,000 prisoners would only reduce the prison burden by a little over 25%. Along with the existing inmates, daily arrests have been still continuing and several other persons are getting sent to these prisons under judicial custody. Most prisons in the state have gone under virtual lockdown and have not been allowing new accused persons in their custody until they underwent a 14- days quarantine period.
For nearly two years since Teltumbde was booked in the case, he had petitioned both the lower judiciary and the higher court against his arrest. But after the Supreme court refused to give him and another activist Gautam Navlakha any relief, both had to surrender before the NIA office. Navlakha, as he lived in Delhi, surrendered before the agency’s Delhi office.
In all, 11 persons, all lawyers, activists and academics, have been arrested in the case. The NIA has held that the nine persons arrested earlier, Teltumbde and Navlakha were part of the Elgar Parishad, an event that was organised at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017. According to the agency, at this event, a conspiracy was hatched to gather at Bhima Koregaon, 30 kilometres from Pune on January 1.
While the police have accused these activists, most of them prominent scholars and activists, of instigating the gathering and the subsequent mob violence, and also plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in reality it was Dalits and Bahujans visiting the spot who were brutally attacked by a Hindutva group. Pune police had been inconsistent in its allegations and had suddenly dropped the PM Modi assassination angle from all its legal documents.
According to the victims, two Brahmin Hindutva leaders, Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide, were allegedly the masterminds behind the attack. Both Ekbote and Bhide have been booked but the police have not initiated any investigation against them.
The case was earlier handled by the Pune police and was handed over to the NIA soon after the BJP government fell in the state and a new coalition government comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress came into power. The new government had expressed its willingness to relook into the allegations and senior leader Sharad Pawar had also termed the arrest “unfair”.