Mumbai: Pune judge was not appointed as a special NIA judge, says HC

The Bombay high court, on Thursday, ordered the state government to place on record evidence to show if the sessions judge K D Vadane was authorised to pass orders as a special NIA judge. This comes after the bench noted that rights' activist Sudha Bharadwaj was correct in contesting that Judge Vadane, who had passed an order in 2018 granting additional time to the Pune police to file its chargesheet in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case and another in 2019 taking cognizance of the chargesheet.

Bharadwaj’s counsel Yug Chaudhary told the bench of Justices Sambhaji Shinde and Nizamoodin Jamadar that Vadane was a sessions court judge at that time and didn’t have any jurisdiction to hear matters under the special NIA act.

“Only a duly appointed special judge under the provisions of the NIA act was authorised to grant extra time and also to take cognizance of the chargesheet. But Judge Vadane wasn't a special judge,” Chaudhary said, while submitting an RTI response he received from the HC registry which stated that Vadane wasn’t a special NIA judge.

The bench had, in the last hearing, ordered the HC registry to submit the relevant documents before it.

On Thursday, when the matter was came up for hearing, the bench said that the original records from the HC registry indeed “matched” the contentions of Bharadwaj.

“Let the state submit any material it has to show that Judge Vadane indeed had any jurisdiction of a NIA court or not,” the bench said.

However, chief public prosecutor Aruna Kamat-Pai sought some time to respond.

During the course of the hearing, Chaudhary submitted that a sessions judge can take cognizance of the chargesheet only if s/he has instructions to do so from the principal judge of the concerned district.

“But in the instant case, the state had already appointed special judges to hear matters under the UAPA and NIA laws. Despite this fact, the public prosecutor of the district and also the investigating officer, for the reasons best known to them, went to Judge Vadane and not the special judge,” Chaudhary argued, adding, “The law is well settled - if a judge passes any orders without jurisdiction the orders are quashed. That is precisely what we seek in this matter.”

Countering his submissions, additional solicitor general Anil Singh said that the Supreme Court is already seized with an identical issue wherein the top court would decide whether the Magistrate court can take cognizance of the chargesheet and even be deemed to be a special court under the UAPA law.

"The aim of the NIA and also the UAPA law is to punish the offender. The submission that just because a sessions judge not having NIA jurisdiction cannot pass any order is misplaced," Singh argued, adding, "Sessions judges are the ones who are appointed as special judges. So it cannot be said as if the sessions judges don't have the ability to hear such scheduled offence cases."

The bench would continue hearing the submissions.

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