In the high-profile Bhima-Koregaon case, where the government sought to smear Left-leaning campaigners as “urban Naxals”, the Delhi high court has set free Gautam Navlakha, one of the group of five well-known figures picked up in a nationwide swoop on August 28. This is a severe rebuke to the police, and opens the path for the release of the remaining four. On Wednesday, the Maharashtra government filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against this Monday order. This might only be to go through the motions as not doing so would amount to self-indictment.
In the four weeks Mr Navlakha and the others were under house arrest under a Supreme Court order in a Unlawful Activities Prevention Act case filed against them, the Pune police gave no indication it had firm grounds to seek arrest of the five, especially under as a draconian law like UAPA. This law is meant for terrorists and dangerous gangsters. The arrested five, in contrast, have a decades-long record of peacefully working for the human rights and civil liberties of poor citizens.
The high court held unconstitutional the chief metropolitan magistrate’s order granting the Pune police transit remand. It also significantly reminded the police it could hold anyone only for 24 hours and establish it had sufficient grounds to do so (while the accused was already under house arrest for four weeks).
Mr Navlakha and the four others charged under UAPA will, of course, have to present their case in court once the police files a chargesheet. For now, Mr Navlakha is free to go about his normal business. The other four should be too.