New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday directed civil rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde to surrender to jail authorities within a week in the Bhima Koregaon violence case saying the time will not be extended now as the courts are functioning in Maharashtra.
The activists, who were directed by the apex court on March 16 to surrender within three weeks, moved the plea seeking extension of time on the ground that going to jail during ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is "virtually a death sentence".
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said the accused should have honoured its decision of dismissal of the anticipatory bail and the direction to surrender themselves within three weeks.
"Though we expected that the accused would surrender, honouring the order of this court, they have not done so. We are told that in Bombay, the courts are functioning. It would have been appropriate for the accused to surrender as the courts are open and not totally closed.
"However, since the petitioners have enjoyed the protection for long, by way of last opportunity, we extend the time granted to surrender for one week," the bench ordered.
The top court also made clear that there shall not be any further extension of time for surrendering.
Earlier in the day, the bench reserved order on the plea of the activists after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the probe agency, said that this was only a mechanism to buy time and both the accused are facing serious charges.
The counsel for the accused said however that they are old, having ailments, and they be granted more time to surrender.
The apex court on March 16 had rejected anticipatory bail pleas of the activists, observing that it cannot be said no prima facie case is made out. It had granted three weeks time to them to surrender themselves to the jail.
Earlier, the apex court, while dismissing the anticipatory bail pleas of Navlakha and Teltumbde, had said their petitions cannot be maintained in view of the bar contained in 43D(4) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.
Section 43D(4) of the UAPA bars grant of anticipatory bail to a person accused of having committed an offence punishable under this Act.
"The special leave petitions are, accordingly, dismissed. However, since the protection has been enjoyed by the petitioners approximately for one-and-a-half years, three weeks time from today is granted to them to surrender. The petitioners shall surrender their passport forthwith with the investigation agency/officer," the bench had said.
Navlakha and Teltumbde had approached the apex court challenging the decision of the Bombay High Court by which it had refused to grant them anticipatory bail in the case.
The top court had on March 6 extended till March 16 the interim protection from arrest granted to both the activists.
The high court, while refusing to grant anticipatory bail to Navlakha and Teltumbde on February 14, had extended their interim protection from arrest for a period of four weeks to enable them to approach the apex court.
It had refused to grant them anticipatory bail saying, "On perusal of all the material on record, it can be seen that there is prima facie evidence showing complicity of applicants (Navlakha and Teltumbde) in the crime."
The high court, after perusing letters allegedly exchanged between the accused persons, had noted that Navlakha, Teltumbde and other accused like Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson and Sudha Bharadwaj prima facie had access to and connections with central committee members and leaders of the banned CPI(Maoist).
Navlakha, Teltumbde and several other activists have been booked by the Pune Police for their alleged Maoist links and several other charges following the violence at Koregaon Bhima village in Pune district on January 1, 2018.
All the accused have denied the allegations.
According to Pune Police, "inflammatory" speeches and "provocative" statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017 had triggered caste violence at Koregaon Bhima the next day. The police alleged that the conclave was backed by Maoists.
Teltumbde and Navlakha had approached the high court seeking pre-arrest bail in November last year after a sessions court in Pune had rejected their pleas.