The Bombay High Court on Thursday granted bail to the forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, an accused in the 2018 Elgar Parishad - Bhima Koregaon riots case.
A division bench of Justices AS Gadkari and Sharmila Deshmukh, however, stayed the order for a week on a request by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to challenge the same before the Supreme Court.
Sixteen activists have been arrested in the case of which five are currently out on bail.
Sixth accused to get bail
Raut is the sixth person to get bail in the Bhima Koregaon case after Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. Rao is out on medical bail.
Another accused Gautam Navlakha is placed under house arrest as per Supreme Court orders.
Raut approached the High Court after a special NIA court rejected his bail plea in November 2021.
Raut, who was arrested on June 6, 2018, is a former fellow of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Rural Development Programme and worked with the Gadchiroli Collector. He graduated from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2011 after which he did a fellowship on conflict zones.
Senior Advocate Mihir Desai and Advocate Vijay Hiremath, appearing for Raut, sought bail on the grounds of parity with co-accused Anand Teltumbde, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves. They argued that Raut had spent over 5 years in custody and the trial was yet to begin.
The evidence against Raut primarily consisted of documents allegedly recovered from the computer of co-accused Rona Wilson and not from Raut. The documents were also never allegedly signed by Raut.
Additional Solicitor General Devang Vyas with Advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for the NIA, opposed Raut’s bail on the ground that acts allegedly committed by Raut were against the society.
Alleged links with CPI (M)
They argued that he was accused under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and his alleged acts are against the interests of the State and society and the unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India. They also submitted evidence which allegedly showed that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had given Raut ₹5 lakh along with co-accused Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale.
The case pertains to the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which according to the Pune police was funded by Maoists. The inflammatory speeches made there led to violence at the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial in Pune the next day, the police had alleged.
The case was later probed by the NIA.