5 years on, Bhima Koregaon violence accused yet to get 60% of clone copies

Despite directions given by the special court to NIA to provide all the evidence, only 40% has been shared, says advocate for some of the accused in the case

December 30, 2022 09:58 pm | Updated December 31, 2022 09:08 am IST - Mumbai

Bhima-Koregaon violence case accused Gautam Navlakha. File

Bhima-Koregaon violence case accused Gautam Navlakha. File | Photo Credit: PTI

It is almost five years since caste-based violence broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Pune but more than 60% of ‘clone copies’ of the evidence against the 15 accused, who are activists, lawyers, journalists, and professors, have not been shared with them.

A forensic clone is an exact, bit-for-bit copy of a piece of digital evidence. This includes files, folders, hard drives, and more. “It has been nearly five years now but 60% of the clone copies, which form crucial evidence collected by the prosecuting agencies against the accused, haven’t been shared with them,” says advocate Barun Kumar appearing for some of the accused in the case. He added, “A direction was given by the special NIA [National Investigation Agency] court to the central agency in May 2022 to provide all the clone copies [to the accused] and despite that only 40% has been shared.”

On June 6, 2018, Pune Police launched a crackdown and arrested Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson in connection with the case. Varvara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested on August 28 the same year. Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde surrendered before the NIA on April 14, 2020. Hany Babu was arrested on July 28, while Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap 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.

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 said it 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.

Quick rewind

The history of Bhima Koregaon, a small village in Pune district, can be traced back to January 1, 1818, when a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, under the British, defeated a massive Peshwa army. A pillar (Vijay Stambh) was erected by the East India Company in memory of those who fought the battle and includes names of the Mahar soldiers. On January 1, 1927, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had visited the war memorial on the 109th anniversary of the battle and the site’s popularity has grown since then.

On December 31, 2017, a public meeting was organised called ‘Elgar Parishad’ and attracted many Dalits and Bahujans. However, the following day, they were attacked by a mob and the violence resulted in the death of a 30-year-old Maratha man and injuries to several others.

On January 2, 2018, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against Hindutva 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 Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) Mr. Gaichor, Mr. Gorkhe and Ms. Jagtap. KKM is a troupe made up of Dalit and working-class musicians and poets who came together after the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002.

The charges

In its chargesheet, the NIA has mentioned, “The investigation revealed that the tentacles of conspiracy were not only spread throughout the country but also extended beyond India. The incriminating documents recovered from the accused include their discreet communications with other Maoist cadres regarding conspiracy related to the violent incident of Bhima Koregaon as a part of their well chalked-out strategy. It also included various documents regarding mobilisation against the Constitutionally established government by the Maoist cadres, information about movement of the security forces with an intention to cause heavy damage to the State. Discreet codes were used for secret communication amongst themselves to avoid detection by security forces regarding their conspiracy and planning.”

The special NIA court had relied upon letters produced by NIA in the case and said, “The contents of the letter prima facie speaks that the Communist Party of India (M) was bent upon to end the Modi-Raj i.e. the Modi-led government. The accused were also thinking to go for another incident like the death of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, by targeting the road shows of Mr. Modi.”

Report by U.S. firm

A U.S.-based digital forensic company firm, Arsenal Consultancy has revealed in a report released on December 10, 2021, that the evidence collected by NIA was planted by an attacker in the computers of Mr. Wilson, Mr. Gadling and most recently in Father Stan’s computer. The report discloses, “On February 10, 2021, the consultancy found that a hacker-controlled Mr. Wilson’s computer for a period of 22 months to plant documents.” As per a report released by the firm on December 10, 2022, “Fr. Swamy’s computer was compromised from October 19, 2014, till his computer was seized by Pune Police on June 12, 2019.”

On October 27, 2021, the Supreme Court constituted a technical committee composed of Prof. Naveen Chaudhary, Prof. P. Prabhakaran and Prof. Ashwin Gumaste, overseen by Justice R.V. Raveendran, former Supreme Court judge, to investigate allegations of unauthorised surveillance through Pegasus spyware in the case. The committee had requested the Director-General of the NIA on January 30, 2022, to arrange for mobile phones of some of the accused as it was informed to the committee that their phones have been allegedly infected by Pegasus. However, nothing has come out of it so far.

TIMELINE

January 1, 1818 – A few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, under the the British, defeated a massive Peshwa army. To honour their gallantry, a monument was built called ‘Vijay Stambh’.

January 1, 1927 – Dr BR Ambedkar visited the site and its popularity grows.

December 31, 2017 – ‘Elgar Parishad’ was organised where Dalits and Bahujans participated. They were allegedly attacked by a mob and in the violence, a Maratha man died

January 2, 2018 – FIR against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide were filed followed by 22 more FIRs.

January 8, 2018 – One of the FIRs was against Sudhir Dhawale, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap

June 6, 2018 – Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson were arrested by Pune Police.

August 28, 2018 – Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested

November 2018 – First chargesheet filed by Pune Police

February 2019 – Pune Police filed supplementary chargesheet.

January 24, 2020 – Through an order by the Ministry of Home Affairs, NIA takes over the probe.

April 14, 2020 – Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde surrendered before the NIA office.

July 28, 2020 – Prof Hany Babu arrested.

September 7, 2020 – NIA arrests KKM artistes Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and arrests Jyoti Jagtap the next day.

October 8, 2020 – NIA arrests late Father Stan Swamy and the next day NIA filed a second supplementary chargesheet.

February 8, 2021 – Forensic report by Arsenal Consultancy reveals electronic evidence is planted in Rona Wilson’s laptop.

February 22, 2021 – Bombay High Court grants medical bail to Varavara Rao.

July 5, 2021 – Father Stan dies.

August 9, 2021 - NIA files draft charges before NIA court.

October 27, 2021 - Supreme Court constituted committee to look into allegations of use of Pegasus spyware in mobile phones of some accused.

December 1, 2021 – Bombay High Court grants bail to Sudha Bharadwaj.

November 10, 2022 – Supreme Court directed Gautam Navlakha to be shifted to house arrest.

November 18, 2022 – Bombay High Court granted bail to Anand Teltumbde.

December 11, 2022 – A report by Arsenal Consultancy showed all the evidence relied upon by NIA on Fr. Stan’s computer was planted.

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