Elgar Parishad Case: Bombay HC Says Won't Review Refusal of Default Bail to 3 Activists

Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves' petition said the high court's previous order was based on a "factual error".

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New Delhi: The Bombay high court on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by Varavara Rao and two other activists, arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, seeking a review of an earlier order of the high court which refused them default bail.

The high court said it finds it difficult to hold there was any factual error in its earlier judgement and requires a review.

“”No case for exercise of review jurisdiction is made out. A point which was not urged, is impermissible to be reviewed,” a division bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar said.

The high court rejected the petition filed by the three accused – Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves – challenging a previous order of the high court that refused to grant them default bail in the case.

Rao is currently out on medical bail, while the other two petitioners are in jail.

The three accused had challenged a December 1, 2021 order passed by the bench led by Justice Shinde that granted default bail to lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, a co-accused in the case, but denied default bail to eight other accused persons, including the three petitioners.

At that time, the high court had said the accused persons, other than Bharadwaj, had not filed their pleas seeking default bail before the lower court within the time stipulated by law.

In their pleas, filed through advocates Sudeep Pasbola and R. Satyanarayanan, the accused said the high court’s order was based on a “factual error,” as it failed to note that the lower court had rejected the default bail pleas filed by Bharadwaj, the three petitioners, and two other co-accused persons through a common order.

“If such power of correcting its own record is denied to the High Court, when it notices the apparent errors its consequence is that the superior status of the High Court will dwindle down. Therefore, it is only proper to think that the plenary powers of the High Court would include the power of review relating to errors apparent on the face of the record,” the petition said.

Hence, if the high court, in granting bail to Bharadwaj, set aside the lower court order of November 6, 2019, the others too were entitled to relief.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had opposed the plea on the ground that the accused were seeking the same prayer of default bail under the guise of review, and that it was an abuse of the process of law and sets a wrong precedent.

The case, now being handled by the NIA, pertains to the ‘Elgar Parishad’ conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the Pune police alleged was funded by Maoists.

The Elgar Parishad case, which was earlier being investigated by the Pune police and was later handed over to the NIA, has been criticised by rights activists internationally as a ‘witch-hunt’ against those who work with marginalised communities and dissent against the government in power. Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, who spent his life working for tribal rights, passed away in custody after being arrested in the case. He was denied medical bail despite several serious conditions, including advanced Parkinson’s disease.

Only one other accused in the case, lawyer and rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, is currently out on bail. Thirteen others continue to be lodged in Maharashtra prisons.

(With PTI inputs)