In Setback to Maharashtra Police, Delhi HC Frees Gautam Navlakha from House Arrest

"It is obvious that there was non-compliance of mandatory provisions of the Constitution and Code of Criminal Procedure [during his arrest]," Justice Muralidhar said.

New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Monday said that Gautam Navlakha, one of the five rights activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, should be freed from house arrest.

The high court granted him the relief saying that the Supreme Court last week had given him the liberty to approach the appropriate forum within four weeks to seek relief, which he has done.

The high court also quashed the trial court’s transit remand order, which he had challenged before the matter was taken to the apex court.

“It is obvious that there was non-compliance of mandatory provisions of the constitution and Code of Criminal Procedure,” Bar and Bench quoted Justice S. Muralidhar as saying.

Also read: Delhi HC’s Halted Order on Navlakha Arrest Shows Up Police Disregard for Due Process

The court said Navlakha’s detention has exceeded 24 hours, which was “untenable”.

Acting through his counsels – Nitya Ramakrishanan, Warisha Farishat and Ashwath Sitharaman – Navlakha had first approached the Delhi high court on the afternoon of August 28 seeking the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus questioning the legality of his arrest by the Pune police and pressing for his release from their illegal custody.

During its initial hearing, the high court bench had punched huge holes in the Maharashtra police’s case for the arrest and ‘transit remand’ of Navlakha. However, it had stopped short, until now, of pronouncing an actual verdict in view of the Supreme Court granting temporary relief to him and four others charged by the state with crimes under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The bench noted in a brief order on August 28 that it was shown the documents that had been produced before the chief metropolitan magistrate and that most of these, including the FIR, were in Marathi. “However, it is not possible to make out from these documents what precisely the case against the petitioner is,” it noted.

The Supreme Court on Friday had refused to order an SIT investigation into the arrest of the five rights activists by the Maharashtra police, and ordered four more weeks of house arrest. During these four weeks, the activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha – may approach a trial court for bail, the court had said.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud were hearing the matter in the Supreme Court.

Justice Chandrachud presented a dissenting opinion. He argued that the Maharashtra police could not be trusted to conduct a fair investigation, given their previous record in the case. “There can be no manner of doubt that the deprivation of human rights seriously impinges upon the dignity of the individual for which even compensation may not constitute an adequate recompense. …Hence, I am of the view that while the investigation should not be thwarted, this is a proper case for the appointment of a Special Investigating Team. Circumstances have been drawn to our notice to cast a cloud on whether the Maharashtra police has in the present case acted as fair and impartial investigating agency. Sufficient material has been placed before the Court bearing on the need to have an independent investigation,” he argued.

(With PTI inputs)