Monday 17 January 2022
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Sudha Bharadwaj, accused of Maoist terrorism, released

In a development indicating the Indian judiciary’s soft corner for disturbing elements, lawyer-activist and alleged Maoist operative Sudha Bharadwaj, one of the 16 people arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, was released this morning after she spent more than three years in jail. The Supreme Court had two days ago rejected the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) plea to stay the bail granted to her by the Bombay High Court on 1 December.

“We see no reason to interfere with the High Court order. Plea dismissed,” a bench of Justices UU Lalit, SR Bhat, and Bela M Trivedi had said, paving the way for her release.

Bharadwaj was released from the Byculla women’s prison after the court set the bail conditions yesterday. She is the first to be granted bail in the case involving the annual celebration by a section of the population of the treachery of their folk who, two centuries ago, had supported the British invaders, the East India Company, instead of the local Peshwas.

Pune Police and later the handled the case. Bharadwaj was initially lodged at Pune’s Yerwada prison when the state police were investigating the case and was moved to the Byculla women’s prison after the NIA took over. The case is yet to go to trial.

As part of her bail conditions, a special court had said that the 60-year-old activist would have to submit her passport and stay in Mumbai. She has to seek permission from the court to leave city limits.

Bharadwaj cannot interact with the media on the case, the special court had said. Appearing for her, Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry had opposed the condition stating that this is an infringement of her of speech. She was released on a provisional cash bail of Rs 50,000 and has been directed to visit the nearest police station, physically or through a video call, every fortnight.

She has also been directed to not establish any kind of contact with her co-accused in the case, and not make any international calls.

Police had arrested Bharadwaj on 28 August 2018 and placed her later under house arrest. She was then taken into custody on 27 October 2018.

The case was filed over alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad conclave on 31 December 2017.

The speeches of Bharadwaj, among those by other rabble-rousers including those no way connected to the region, triggered violence near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the city’s outskirts the next day, the police had complained. The police had alleged that the conclave was backed by Maoists too, as was evident from the participation of Umar Khalid of JNU’s infamous tukde-tukde gang.

The Bombay High Court had granted bail to Bharadwaj after she had pointed out that Pune additional sessions judge KD Vadane, who had taken cognisance of the police charge sheet in the case filed in 2019, was not authorised to do so as his court was not notified as a ‘special court’ under Section 22 of the Act.

The high court had dismissed her plea for interim bail on medical grounds in August last year where she had stated that she suffered from co-morbidities, such as diabetes and hypertension, which put her at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 while at the prison where an inmate had tested positive at that time.

Priest-activist Stan Swamy, 84, arrested under the anti-terror law UAPA in the Elgar Parishad case last year, died in July in the midst of the fight for bail on health grounds and the -leaning media, as much as the judge hearing his case, shed copious tears about the ‘poor’ activist.

The judiciary granted another accused in the case, political activist and Maoist poet Varavara Rao, bail on medical grounds earlier this year.

Along with Bharadwaj, eight other accused, namely Sudhir Dawale, Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira, had applied for bail on similar grounds but the high court had rejected their applications stating that the applications were not filed on time and hence could be considered.

Communist rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties welcomed the bail granted to Bharadwaj and said that it sees it was a “vindication of the long campaign against the UAPA by the PUCL and other allied groups. It indicates a shift in the larger public mood and judicial mindset towards acknowledging the UAPA as an unjust and undemocratic tool to stifle any viewpoint which the government considers problematic.” Dr V Suresh, General Secretary of PUCL, said that the organisation’s “ultimate objective” is the repeal of the controversial anti-terror law UAPA and ensure the release of all who have been “unjustly imprisoned” under it. The civil rights organisation is campaigning for the withdrawal of prosecution against all 16 accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.

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