PUCL strongly deprecates and deplores the rejection by the Supreme Court on 07th April, 2020, of the Petition filed by Gautam Navalakha and Prof. Anand Teltumbde seeking additional time to surrender before the trial court in the Bhīma Koregaon, case in view of both of them being over 65 years old and being in the `high risk category’ as highlighted by the WHO and the Government of India. What is regrettable is that the Court did not consider the factual circumstance that both persons had only sought additional time to surrender considering their age, medical history of ailments, including cardiac ailments and asthma, which makes them particularly susceptible to contract COVID-19 / Corona infection in the overcrowded prisons in Maharashtra. What increases the possibility of contracting the virus is the fact that Maharashtra also has had the maximum number of COVID-19 infections as also deaths due to the virus, in India. What was also not considered was the fact that both Gautam Navalakha and Anand Teltumbde had categorically assured to surrender in compliance to the Order of 16.3.2020 of the SC rejecting their application for anticipatory bail, once the Corona virus pandemic crisis had abated.
What is especially condemnable is the vindictive and vengeful action of the Central Government which demanded that both the persons should be incarcerated in prison, knowing fully well the dangers that it posed to the two persons, both senior citizens. The action of the Central Government runs counter to their own Guidelines for the prevention of spread of Corona virus which recommends
social distancing’,home quarantine’ and desegregation of crowded places. What is disappointing is that the SC also did not critically question the State as to what harm would be caused by permitting the 2 persons to surrender some weeks later after the Corona virus pandemic had been curtailed, especially when there was no allegation against them of having committed any offence during the 19 months when they were protected from arrest since the attempt made to arrest them in August, 2018. Both of them are prominent citizens, eminent academics, prolific writers and progressive thinkers and not the type of people to escape or evade justice.
PUCL demands that both Gautam Navalakha and Anand Teltumbde should be given a reprieve from surrendering before the Trial Court in the Bhima Koregaon case until the COVID-19 / Corona pandemic is declared to have ended, after which they may be permitted to surrender. PUCL also demands that the rest of the other prisoners in the Bhima Koregaon case consisting of Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves, many of whom are also senior citizens and suffering serious ailments themselves, should also be released, keeping in mind the Corona epidemic and the need to decongest the prisons.
Mr. Ravi Kiran Jain, President, PUCL
Dr. V. Suresh, Gen, Secy, PUCL