Khushi Bajpai

Published on: 20 August, 2022 at 17:36 IST

The trial for the case involving violence near the Koregaon Bhima war memorial in 2018 can start after the Supreme Court on Thursday instructed the National Investigation Agency to approach the special court to separate the trial against the 15 accused arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case from that of the accused who are still missing.

The bench also ordered the trial court to determine whether the accused needed to be charged. Since some accused have requested discharges, such requests will also be heard concurrently. The panel of Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat ruled that the process should be completed in three months.

The highest court’s instruction came during a hearing on a bail request by one of the accused, Vernon Gonsalves, who argued that he should be released on bail because he had been detained since August 28, 2018, but the trial had not yet started. Gonsalves also emphasised that a few other suspects had already been granted bond release.

The court stated that because he had already been found guilty in a case under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2011, his case was distinct from that of the other accused (UAPA).

The trial court was given three months to decide whether or not to file charges against the petitioner, and the bench instructed Gonsalves to wait until that time. The apprehended accused must be tried separately from other defendants, and the respondent (NIA) must take the necessary steps to obtain a declaration under Section 82 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The trial court has the authority under Section 82 to declare a person who has fled a “proclaimed offender.”

The top court awarded 82-year-old P Varavara Rao, another defendant in the same case, perpetual medical release on August 10.

The bench declared that in most cases, we give first-time offenders the benefit of the doubt. You were found guilty in this case based on UAPA. That implies that you belong to a group that is prohibited. This conclusion was reached by a judicial body rather than the police.

“You are not completely innocent. Therefore, you cannot be trusted as someone who deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

One of the activists, attorneys, poets, and academics detained by the NIA in relation to allegedly provocative remarks made at the Elgar Parishad conference held in Pune on December 31, 2017, is attorney Vernon Gonsalves. According to the police, this sparked unrest the next day in the area of the Koregaon Bhima war memorial, which is on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city, which resulted in the death of one person and the injuries of a number of others. The NIA asserts that the defendants engage in anti-national activities and have Maoist connections.

After Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju, who was representing the investigative agency NIA, stated that the 15 defendants were arrested as a result of evidence pointing to their connections with CPI, the bench issued a directive about the segregation of the trial (Maoist). Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old tribal rights leader and one of the accused in the same case, passed away on July 5 of last year while being held in judicial custody in Mumbai.

According to Raju, the trial against the defendants could not start since four people were still at large and the arrested defendants had submitted numerous requests for the case to be dropped. In response to the court’s order to have the accused who have not yet been apprehended declared proclaimed offenders, Raju stated that he had recommended to the public prosecutor that the procedure be initiated and a separate trial be held.

He argued that Vernon Gonsalves was continuing his activities despite having been found guilty by a Nagpur court in 2011 of being a member of an unlawful association and aiding an unlawful activity and having been given a three-year and five-year rigor prison sentence. He opposed Vernon Gonsalves’ request for bail.

Vernon’s senior attorney, Rebecca John, who was representing him, claimed that the evidence seized from him did not establish any case against him or place him in any kind of legal jeopardy.

“NIA is thinking about isolating the experiment to ensure that it is unaffected. After three months, we will consider your bail plea if they don’t.”

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