New Delhi/Mumbai: In a relief to jailed activist Gautam Navlakha, the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed his plea to be placed under house arrest owing to his deteriorating health, saying prima facie there is no reason to reject the septuagenarian's medical report.
Directing that Navlakha, who is lodged in Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case, be shifted out within 48 hours for a month, the court also set several conditions including CCTV surveillance and telephone curbs.
Noting that Navlakha, 70, has been in custody since April 14, 2020, the top court said he does not have any criminal background at all except this case and even the Government of India had even appointed him as interlocutor to hold talks with Maoists.
The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made by Navlakha and others at the Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claim triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.
Setting a Rs 2.4 lakh deposit towards expenses of the activist's security as one of the conditions, a bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy allowed the Maharashtra Police to search and inspect the residence where Navlakha will be put up.
Navlakha's partner Sahba Husain expressed happiness over the Supreme Court order.
"We are happy even if it is for a month. The order says he will have to be in Mumbai. We have seen certain places... but we are yet to zero in on. We have to make arrangements now," Sahba told PTI in Mumbai.
Navlakha was not released from prison till late in the evening as formalities could not be completed. He is expected to be shifted out of the jail on Friday afternoon.
"There is a lot of paperwork to be done including furnishing local surety as directed by the apex court and also the deposit amount," Sahba said.
The apex court order came on an appeal against the April 26 order of the Bombay High Court dismissing Navlakha's plea for house arrest over apprehensions of lack of adequate medical and other basic facilities in Taloja jail.
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju stoutly opposed the application and submitted that the activist's health condition was not so bad that he be placed under house arrest.
The top court said the trial in the case is unlikely to take place in the near future and that even the charges have not been framed.
"It is not in dispute that apart from this case, the petitioner does not have any criminal background at all. In the year 2011, the service of the petitioner was used as an interlocutor to mediate with the extremists for securing the release of people kidnapped by Maoists.
"We think that we should allow the petitioner be allowed to be placed under house arrest, to begin with, for a period of one month. The respondents will carry out the necessary evaluation of the premises indicated by us," it said.
While setting conditions, the court said Navlakha will not be allowed to use a computer and internet during his house arrest.
"Petitioner will not use a computer, internet or any other communication device while under house arrest. He will, however, be permitted to use a mobile phone without internet, provided by police personnel on duty, once a day for 10 minutes in the presence of the police."
The court also said that Navlakha shall not be allowed to leave Mumbai and he will not attempt, in any manner, to influence witnesses during his house arrest.
Television and newspapers will be allowed, but these cannot be internet-based, it added.
Accepting the restrictions for Navlakha that were put forward by ASG Raju , the bench said CCTV cameras will be installed outside the rooms and at entry and exit points of his house.
Navlakha would not be allowed to leave the house except for walks in the company of Police personnel, it said.
He would also be permitted to meet a lawyer as per Jail Manual rules and intimate police personnel in case of medical emergency, it added.
The matter is now listed for hearing in the second week of December and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been asked to obtain a fresh medical report in the meanwhile.
"We observe that the petitioner and companion are expected to scrupulously adhere to all conditions. Any deviation will be viewed seriously and may entail immediate cancellation of the order," the court said.
As the hearing commenced on Thursday, Raju said there's a twist in the tale.
"We have reason to believe that the medical report is tainted."
Raju submitted that the medical report filed by the Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai may be "tainted" as Navlakha's brother-in-law, a doctor, was part of the medical board.
The court responded to say it has gone through the report and that it has been given by several doctors from various disciplines.
"You are trying to cast a prejudice by pointing out that one of the doctors is related.
"You are saying that since he is related so therefore he will give a biased report. It can't be. Don't bring it to that level. Don't say that throw the report away. Mr Raju, you have to be responsible for your submission. Yesterday you said you had no problem in providing a mattress, cot, doctor etc. Don't bring all this.
"What did the doctor say? that he needs a mattress. Has he said he needs something else. Suppose he said that Navlakha needs hospitalisation and cannot be allowed to remain in jail. Then we would have said that he is trying to overreach and his relationship is influencing him," the bench said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Navlakha, said he was surprised.
"Will a doctor now be required to give up on their oath. What is he arguing? You first attack the man and now the doctors. There are 12 doctors involved in this. Can anybody make a submission like this, especially the Government of India? Sibal said.
Sibal had said on Wednesday that the medical reports showed there was no possibility of him being treated in jail....