Supreme Court grants bail to Ferreira and Gonsalves in 2018 Bhima Koregaon case

The Supreme Court has granted conditional bails to Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves. Ferreira and Gonsalves are charged under the UAPA for their alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence case.

The Supreme Court has granted bail to activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, accused in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case on Friday, July 28th. Ferreira and Gonsalves were arrested along with other prominent activists, lawyers, journalists and writers in August 2018 and charged under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). They have been in jail for over five years.

A bench of the apex court consisting of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted that although there are serious charges against Ferreira and Gonsalves, that can’t be the sole ground to deny them bail and justify their imprisonment pending the trial. However the bench has imposed certain conditions on their bail.

The Supreme Court has imposed the following conditions on Ferreira and Gonsalves

  • They can’t leave the state of Maharashtra during the trial.
  • They have to surrender their passports with the investigation officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case. They must also share their addresses and phone numbers with the NIA.
  • Ferreira and Gonsalves can only use one mobile phone connection each during the duration of their bail.
  • Their mobile phones should always remain adequately charged and turned on 24 hours a day. Ferreira and Gonsalves must also turn on their mobile phone’s location and synchronise with the NIA.
  • They have to report to the investigating officer once in a week.

Earlier, the bail pleas of Ferreira and Gonsalves were rejected by the Bombay High Court in December 2021. They further appealed to the apex court against the Bombay High Court’s decision. After hearing their plea, the Supreme Court had reserved its order in March 2023.

Ferreira and Gonsalves, prominent social activists, were arrested after the Maharashtra Police launched a massive manhunt to nab activists and intellectuals whom it accused of provoking violence during the celebration of the 200 years of the Bhima Koregaon Battle. The Maharashtra Police also alleged that the accused plotted a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When the federally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to form a government in Maharashtra after the 2019 polls, the case was hurriedly transferred to the NIA, allegedly to ensure that the Opposition doesn’t get a chance to withdraw the case and release the activists.

Several activists arrested for the Bhima Koregaon violence continue to languish behind the bars as most of their bail pleas are rejected by different courts. One of the accused, Father Stan Swamy, an octogenarian Jesuit priest, died in custody, allegedly due to lack of proper medical care in July 2021.

An American firm had earlier stated that the letter of a certain “Comrade M”, which the police claimed was found in the computer of one of the accused, Rona Wilson, appeared as the result of a malware attack. Rights activists accuse the BJP of framing the activists to intimidate voices critical of its rule.

The opponents of the BJP allege that the Bhima Koregaon violence issue is used by the BJP to carry out a state-sponsored witch hunt against activists and intellectuals critical of the Modi government. They allege that the two principal accused in the case, allegedly close to the ultra-right Hindutva camp, remain scot free, while the innocents languish behind the bars.

After Ferreira and Gonsalves, it’s to be seen whether the Supreme Court’s order or its observations can influence the bail plea hearing of other accused in the case, who have spent over five years in jail.

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