Five years after arrest, Bhima Koregaon case accused yet to get copies of proof against them

Special Public Prosecutor rubbished the allegation and said most of the material have been shared with them

Updated - June 06, 2023 01:49 pm IST

Published - June 05, 2023 08:02 pm IST - Mumbai:

Bhima-Koregaon violence case accused Gautam Navlakha being taken to the  Communist Party of India (Marxist)  CPI(M) office building at Belapur in Navi Mumbai, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

Bhima-Koregaon violence case accused Gautam Navlakha being taken to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) office building at Belapur in Navi Mumbai, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. | Photo Credit: Sanal M Sudevan _11657@Chennai

It has been five years since Sudhir Dhawale, an activist; Surendra Gadling, a criminal lawyer practising in Nagpur; Shoma Sen, professor and Head of Department, English at Nagpur University; activists Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut were arrested in the caste-based violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Pune in 2017.

On June 6, 2018, they were arrested from different locations in Maharashtra, and they continue to be in jail as undertrials even as all the clone copies of the evidence against them are still not shared with them, says the defence lawyer, but the prosecutor refutes the charge.

In 2018, the Pune police launched a crackdown after arresting the first batch of the accused in June. Poet Varavara Rao, advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, activists Arun Ferreira, and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested on August 28, 2018. Activist Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde surrendered before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) offices on April 14, 2020. Hany Babu was arrested on July 28; Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) were arrested in September, the late Father Stan Swamy was arrested on October 8, 2020, and died on July 5, 2021, while in judicial custody.

“It has been six years, however most of the clone copies which form crucial evidence collected by the prosecuting agencies against the accused are still not shared with them,” says advocate Barun Kumar, appearing for some of the accused in the case. He added, “There was a direction given by the Special NIA court to the Central agency in May 2022 to share all the clone copies with the accused. But it is still not done.”

However, Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Shetty rubbished the allegation and said, “We have submitted maximum clone copies of the evidence to the accused. Some may have been missed, but most of the material have been shared with them.”

Pending application

Mr. Kumar had filed an application before Special NIA judge D.E. Kothalikar under Section 207 (supply to the accused of copy of police report and other documents) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and that application is still pending despite a direction from the court to the prosecution to share all the evidence, which they have relied upon, with the accused.

On August 18, 2022, the then Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit had told the trial court to frame charges against the accused within three months. However, on November 25, 2022, Special NIA judge R.J. Kataria replied that he would take another year to decide if charges need to be framed in the case. Currently, discharge applications filed by some of the accused are being heard by the court.

Public meeting

The case dates back to January 1, 1818, when Peshwas Army, which had several Mahars, won a battle against the British Army. To honour the gallantry of the Mahars, a monument was built, called ‘Vijay Stambh’. On January 1, 1927, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had visited the site and started an annual tradition to celebrate the occasion.

On December 31, 2017, a public meeting was organised called ‘Elgar Parishad’ and the next day many Dalits and Bahujans gathered, however, they were attacked by a mob which resulted in the death of a 30-year-old Maratha man. On January 2, 2018, a local resident Anita Sawale had filed an FIR against Hindu extremist leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide. Subsequently, 22 FIRs were registered in the case and one of them named Mr. Dhawale and members of the KKM.

The Special NIA court had relied upon letters produced by the NIA in the case but are not mentioned in the chargesheet. “The contents of the letter prima facie speak that the Communist Party of India (M) was bent upon ending the ‘Modi Raj’ i.e. Modi-led government. The accused were also thinking to go for another incident like the death of Rajiv Gandhi by targeting the road shows of Mr. Modi.”

However, a U.S.-based digital forensic firm, Arsenal Consultancy, has revealed in a report that the evidence collected by the NIA was planted by an attacker in the computers of Mr. Wilson, Mr. Gadling and most recently into Fr. Stan’s computer. On October 27, 2021, the Supreme Court had constituted a technical committee to investigate allegations of unauthorised surveillance of Pegasus in the case. However, nothing has come out of it so far.

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