New Delhi/Mumbai: In a move which could be seen as an attempt to scuttle Gautam Navlakha’s plea in the high court for interim bail in view of the COVID pandemic, the National Investigation Agency shifted the noted civil liberties activist overnight from Delhi to Mumbai on Monday where he was remanded to judicial custody by a special NIA court till June 22.
Navlakha was arrested by the NIA last month and kept at Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Last week, his lawyers moved the Delhi high court seeking interim bail on medical grounds in view of the prevailing public health emergency. With the COVID pandemic raging, there are fears of the prison population – particularly in Delhi and Mumbai – getting exposed to the virus. Navlakha, who is 68, suffers from certain chronic ailments which make him vulnerable to the disease, his lawyers said.
Appearing for the NIA, solicitor general Tushar Mehta had assured the high court that Navlakha’s medical needs would be looked after. He also said that the agency intended to transfer him to Mumbai. Steps “are likely to be taken soon in view of the opening-up of air travel, after obtaining necessary orders from the competent court,” Justice Anup Bhambhani recorded the SG as saying.
The matter was then listed for Wednesday, May 27.
On Saturday, however, during a court hearing to seek extension of Navlakha’s judicial custody, the NIA and said nothing about sending him to Mumbai. Yet, on Monday – a holiday because of Eid – it suddenly applied for and received the court’s approval for transporting Navlakha to Mumbai in a video hearing where Navlakha’s lawyers were not represented. Without legal representation, he was unable to say why the risk of lodging him in a Mumbai jail should not be taken now
Navlakha was given five minutes in Tihar jail to pack his belongings and rushed to the railway station. A patient of colonic polyposis, chronic gastritis and high blood pressure, Navlakha was taken by train to Mumbai where his BP, when checked, had crossed 200/100, Navlakha told his partner, Sehba Hussain.
The NIA’s investigating officer in Mumbai, Vikram Khalate, claimed all the necessary legal procedures had been followed for the shift but The Wire has been unable to establish whether the agency informed the Patiala House court which granted ‘transit remand’ of Navlakha’s medical condition or that his interim bail application is currently pending before the high court.
While Navlakha’s shift to Mumbai was expected in due course – the Bhima Koregaon case is being handled by the NIA there – the fact that the move came when the pandemic is raging in ‘Maximum City’ and that an application for bail was pending in Delhi suggests the agency was keen to scuttle any chance of the Delhi high court giving him a favourable order.
After a special NIA court in Mumbai sent him to judicial custody on Tuesday, Navlakha has been lodged at Taloja jail near Mumbai. The Wire has reported that an inmate there recently died of COVID-19.
Navlakha and several other civil liberties activists have been booked under stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly having Maoist links and conspiring to overthrow the government.
The Pune police, which handled the case initially, had alleged that `inflammatory’ speeches made at the Elgar Parishad meet on December 31, 2017, triggered caste violence at the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial in the district the next day.