Supreme Court Grants Bail to Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Bhima Koregaon Violence Case

LI Network 

Published on: 29 July 2023 at 18:51 IST

The Supreme Court granted bail to activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, who were accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence case.

The Court ruled that mere possession of literature promoting violent acts does not fall under the scope of a ‘terrorist act’ as defined in Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia presided over the case and found no credible evidence of the accused committing any terrorist act, warranting the strict provisions against bail under Section 43D(5) of the UAPA.

The Court held that there was no material evidence establishing that Gonsalves and Ferreira engaged in activities to overawe any public functionary using criminal force.

The prosecution failed to attribute any acts specified under Section 15(1) of the UAPA to the appellants. While some literature recovered from the accused hinted at the propagation of such activities, there was no prima facie evidence showing their direct involvement in overawing public functionaries.

The witness statements did not mention any terrorist acts committed by Gonsalves and Ferreira, and letters implicating them were deemed hearsay. The Court noted that the recovered materials were from co-accused and that the mere possession of such literature would not constitute an offense.

The Court emphasized that when dealing with stringent statutes like the UAPA, the Court’s duty becomes more onerous, ensuring that the offense falls within the scope of the Act. In this case, the activities attributed to the accused were related to ideological propagation and recruitment. However, no evidence of the persons allegedly recruited or involved in the “struggle” inspired by the accused was presented to the Court.

The Bench further observed that possession of literature, even if it promotes violence, does not, by itself, constitute offenses within the relevant sections of the UAPA. Therefore, the Court found no credible evidence supporting the allegation that Gonsalves and Ferreira committed any terrorist act, justifying their release on bail.

Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, along with 14 others, were accused by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of instigating violence at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial in Pune in 2017.

The activists were alleged to have delivered inflammatory speeches, triggering clashes between Maratha and Dalit groups during an event commemorating the Battle of Koregaon-Bhima. Eight accused individuals, including Gonsalves and Ferreira, had previously been denied bail by the Bombay High Court in 2021. Sudha Bharadwaj, another co-accused, had been granted bail.

The recent judgment by the Supreme Court took into account the lack of substantial evidence and the absence of any terrorist acts committed by the appellants, leading to their grant of bail in the Bhima Koregaon violence case.

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