The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted default bail to activist Sudha Bhardwaj who was arrested in connection with the January 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence. However, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court will set out the conditions for bail on December 8. This means Bharadwaj will not be released from prison till then.
Maharashtra police had arrested Bhardwaj from Delhi on August 28, 2018. The matter was transferred to the NIA for investigation on January 24, 2020.
The division bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar denied bail to eight others: Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira.
Primarily, Bhardwaj made two main contentions in her plea. In her first, Bhardwaj said that once the 90 days detention period expired, there were no valid or lawful orders granting Pune police extension of time to file the chargesheet, thus entitling her to bail.
Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhary, representing Bhardwaj, relied on replies received from the Deputy Registrar of High Court under the Right to Information (RTI) Act which said that Sessions judges KD Vadane and RM Pande were not appointed as special judges under the NIA Act. The Maharashtra government had appointed three other judges as special judges under the NIA Act. Thus, the Pune judges Vandane and Pande neither had jurisdiction to grant an extension of time nor to take cognisance of the 1,800 supplementary chargesheet.
Chaudhary relied on the Supreme Court's Bikramjit Singh verdict which ruled that all offences under the UAPA, whether investigated by the NIA or by State police, would be exclusively tried by Special Courts set up under the NIA Act.
Maharashtra government had opposed bail arguing that the Pune judge had jurisdiction to pass orders even though he was not a sessions judge or a Special Judge under the NIA Act. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, representing that state, had argued that UAPA cases would go before a special court under the NIA Act, only after the central probe agency was officially entrusted with the investigation.
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