Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Wednesday stated that the Pune court order that granted the police an additional 90 days to file the charge sheet and consequently extending the custody of Gadling and others was “illegal”.
The verdict was made by a single-judge bench of Justice Mridula Bhatkar and it paves the way for Gadling and other activists to be released on bail. The judge, however, stayed her own order from becoming operational till November 1, following a request from the Maharashtra government, thus giving time to the state to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
Gadling had approached the high court earlier this month with a plea that keeping him under extended custody and refusing to release him on bail was illegal. He had said his custody was illegal as the prosecution had failed to follow the due procedure while seeking extension of time for filing the charge sheet against him and others in the case.
The UAPA mandates that the prosecuting agency in a case must file its charge sheet within 90 days from the arrest of a person. But, if there is a delay on a valid ground, the public prosecutor in the case is permitted to file a report before the trial court explaining the reasons for the delay, and seek more time. The Act mandates that if the trial court is satisfied with the report, it can extend the time for filing the charge sheet up to 180 days.
In the present case, it was alleged that the ‘reports’ that were considered by the lower court in Pune for grant of extension included an application and a written submission made by the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), and the Investigating Officer (IO) concerned in the case, respectively. The arguments seeking the extension were also made by the IO and the ACP before the lower court.
Gadling had argued before the high court that these reports cannot be considered same as the public prosecutor’s report. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, however, argued that the ‘report’ mentioned under the Act must not be taken too “literally” by the high court.
He further argued that police reports in the present case also bore the signature of the public prosecutor concerned and therefore, must be considered a valid document for granting the extension.
On the previous hearing on Tuesday, Justice Bhatkar had questioned why the lower court had permitted the IO and the ACP to argue independently when the prosecutor was present in court. “The lower court committed an illegality in permitting the IO and the ACP to argue independently,” she had said. She noted that the law mandated that the prosecutor assist the courts in all cases, unless something specific was required of the IOs, or other parties in any case.
Supreme Court to hear review petition filed by Romila Thapar
On June 6, five activists were arrested in connection to the violence that disrupted that Bhima-Koregaon event on December 31. Surendra Gadling along with Nagpur University’s English department head Shoma Sen, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, activist Mahesh Raut and Kerala native Rona Wilson were arrested. On August 28, five more activists were arrested in connection with the same event, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha.
A writ petition was filed, on August 29, by historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociologist Satish Deshpande, and senior human rights activist Maja Daruwala in the Supreme Court. The petitioners demanded an independent enquiry into the arrests by a Special Investigation Team as well as stated the fact that the arrests were an attempt by the government to curb political dissent.
The Supreme Court, on September 28, had rejected the plea for an independent enquiry but had upheld the right of the arrested activists to seek legal remunerations against the arrest. The apex court had also extended the house arrest of the activists by five weeks. Earlier this month, arrested civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha was granted bail by the Delhi high court.
A review petition has not been filed by Thapar and others, which is listed for hearing on October 26.
(with PTI inputs)