Last week, during a hearing in the Bhima-Koregaon case, the Supreme Court was struck with an application by the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court for an extension of one more year to frame charges in the Bhima Koregaon case.
It has been five years and the case has witnessed arrests of several activists (some getting bail after long incarceration) for alleged conspiracy and covert involvement in the Elgar Parishad gathering purportedly leading to the January 1, 2018 violence during the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
Timeline of the case
Dec 31, 2017: Elgar Praishad organised regarding the historical significance of the battle fought between Peshwa Bajirao II and the British East India Company
Jan 1, 2018: Violence broke out as Hindu right wing and Maratha groups objected to the commemoration of the event. Two Dalits were killed and several others were injured during bicentenary celebrations.
Jan 2, 2018: FIR registered by Anita Ravindra Salve, a member of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party against Sambhaji Bhide (former RSS worker) and Milind Ekbote (former BJP and Shiv Sena corporator)
May 17, 2018: Sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act added as the police allegedly found incriminating documents from the residence of several activists.
June 6, 2018: Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson arrested
Aug 28, 2018: Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha arrested. They were granted their request for house arrest by the Supreme Court as the court was unsatisfied with the merits of the case.
Sept 28, 2018: SC, in a 2:1 majority rejects request to set up SIT to probe the case of Romila Thapar and few other eminent persons. The dissenting judge was current CJI DY Chandrachud, who supported the plea for SIT due to “cloud on the impartiality of the investigative process”.
Oct-Nov 2018: Bharadwaj, Ferreira, Gonsalves, taken into police custody, while Navlakha gets house arrest as per HC order
Nov 15, 2018: A charge sheet of more than 5,000 pages in filed alleging a larger conspiracy and Maoist links.
Nov 17, 2018: Poet activist, Varavara Rao taken into judicial custody
Feb 21, 2019: Supplementary charge sheet filed claiming that the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers, with which some of the accused were associated, is a front organisation for Maoists.
Jan 24, 2020: Cases handed over to the NIA by the Union Government
Apr 14, 2020: Anand Teltumbde, Navlakha surrender to NIA as their prayer for interim relief, even when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, was denied
July 25, 2020: NIA interrogates Fr Stan Swamy for nearly 15 hours
July 28, 2020: Prof Hany Babu arrested
Oct 8, 2020: 83-year-old Fr Stan Swamy (now deceased) arrested
Oct 10, 2020: Another supplementary charge sheet
Oct 18-22, 2020: Stan Swamy filed for interim bail on medical ground but denied
Feb 22, 2021: Varavara granted bail for 6 months on medical grounds
July 5, 2021: Fr Stan Swamy passes away due to cardiac arrest
Dec 1, 2021: Bombay HC grants bail to Sudha Bharadwaj; others’ bails rejected
Aug 10, 2022: SC grants Varavara bail
Aug 19, 2022: SC asked NIA Court to decide on framing of charges within 3 months
May 5, 2022: Ekbote’s name dropped from the case
Nov 10, 2022: SC grants Navlakha’s request for house arrest
Nov 18, 2022: Bombay HC grants bail to Anand Teltumbde on merits
Nov 2022: NIA court seeks another year of extension for framing charges
On Dec 31, 2017, the Elgar Praishad was organised by former Supreme Court judge, Justice PB Sawant, and former high court judge, Justice BG Kolse Patil, regarding the historical significance of the battle fought between Peshwa Bajirao II and the British East India Company.
Five years later, now, in the absence of charges against the arrested accused, the Supreme Court has decided to proceed with the hearing of bail applications of activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira from January 30.
Last year in August, while hearing Mr Gonsalves’ plea, the apex court had given the NIA court three months to decide whether the charges are required to be framed or not. This three-month period ended in November 2022.
The NIA has said that its special court needs time to frame charges as the accused kept on filing discharge pleas. The NIA court will first pass orders on these applications and then proceed with framing of charges, which will be the first step towards commencing the trial.
Notably, advocates for the eminent citizens, including historian Romila Thapar, told the SC that the case against the activists arrested in the case was constructed in the name of former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who is serving life sentence for Maoist links. Ms Thapar and other noted personalities, who had filed a plea against the arrest of the activists, said the case was based on 13 letters, which are in the public domain, either written or received by one Comrade Prakash, whom a lower court has said is actually Saibaba. The question has been raised how a person in prison could be writing letters that then form the basis of such a serious case.
It has also been five years since the Koregaon Bhima Commission was constituted. In this duration, it has received 10 extensions but has yet to deliver a substantive report. On Jan 17, the Maharashtra government granted a fresh extension of three months till March 31 to the two-member Commission. The earlier extension was valid till Dec 31, 2022.
Given the five-year developments, it’s pertinent to look at the timeline of the sequence of incidents through the case, right from the registration of FIRs, arrest of the accused and the duration of their incarceration. Criminal trials in India are notorious for their delays. Trials under the most stringent laws like the NIA Act fare even worse.
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