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New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice S. Ravindra Bhat on Monday, August 29, recused from hearing jailed activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea that he be placed under house custody instead of judicial custody in the Elgar-Parishad case.
As the hearing started, Justice Bhat, who was on the bench with Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, expressed his inability to be part of the hearing but did not elaborate on the reason.
The 70-year-old activist has appealed to the top court against the April 26 order of the Bombay high court dismissing his plea.
The high court had said that his apprehensions about the lack of medical aid and inadequate basic facilities at the Taloja prison, where he is currently lodged as an undertrial, were “ill-founded”.
Recently, 82-year-old activist P. Varavara Rao was granted bail in the case by the apex court.
“Justice Bhat cannot hear. This case is not to be listed before a bench with Justice Bhat. List before me on the administrative side. This case was listed before me and Justice K.M. Joseph last. We will have this case listed before a bench with Justice Joseph,” the CJI said in the order on Navlakha’s appeal.
Navlakha had told the high court that Taloja prison was overcrowded and the conditions and environment of the jail were not compatible with his health.
“The case of the petitioner does not fit in any of the criteria (provided for by SC). The apprehension of the petitioner that he will not be provided medical aid and his life will be miserable in unhygienic conditions and atmosphere of the prison seems to be ill-founded,” the high court had said.
Navlakha had approached the high court earlier saying that the Taloja prison had poor facilities. He had said that he had been denied a chair, a pair of slippers, his spectacles, and a P.G. Wodehouse book by the prison superintendent.
Navlakha had also said that the prison toilets were dirty and while in prison, his health condition had deteriorated.
According to Livelaw, Navlakha had brought to the notice of the high court that in appropriate cases, under Section 167 of CrPC, the Supreme Court allowed house arrest factoring in the age, health and antecedents of the accused. Navlakha had argued that he perfectly fell within the purview of the definition.
Besides Rao, the only accused on bail in the case is an activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj. The Bombay high court had granted relief to Bharadwaj last year.
The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.
The Pune Police had also claimed that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) later took over the probe in the matter.
Several activists and academicians have been arrested in the case including Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha.
(With PTI inputs)