The Supreme Court on November 18, 2022 refused National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) plea to recall its November 10 order to shift activist Gautam Navlakha from Taloja Jail to house arrest in Navi Mumbai, asking if “the might of the state cannot keep an eye on an ailing, 70-year-old man”.
Appearing before a Bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju jointly urged that Mr. Navlakha, charged under the UAPA in the Bhima Koregaon case, had “misled” the court to understand the house arrest premises was a residential property with a library occupying the ground floor. Instead, they said, the building was an “office” of the Communist Party.
They said a recce by the NIA revealed a “kitchen door” leading outside and a collapsible grill door. They even revealed that karate classes were held on the terrace where “fit people” attend and could pose a security threat to the police guard. They also said a CCTV camera was not put up in one of the entrances to the house arrest premises.
“The facts are very, very disturbing… The building belongs to the Communist Party. You were misled to believe he was going home,” Solicitor General said gravely.
Justice Joseph pointed out that the Communist Party was a recognised political party of the country.
Mr. Mehta shot back, saying “if that does not shock Your Lordships, nothing can!”
“We are certainly not shocked… It is something of common knowledge that Communist Party is recognised,” Justice Joseph said.
“I am not aware…” Mr. Mehta replied.
“If you are not aware, we cannot do anything,” Justice Joseph said.
The court said the kitchen door should be locked and sealed. The NIA could also lock the grill exit and keep the key with it, adding “then throw the key into the Arabian Sea”.
“With all the might of the state, you are not able to keep a 70-year-old ailing man in house confinement? That is the perception we are getting here,” Justice Roy asked the law officers.
The Solicitor General said though all were to be treated equal under Article 14, “some were more equal”. He said there were other inmates in Taloja of Mr. Navlakha’s age and ailments, and they were treated by the jail.
Mr. Mehta said the “70-year-old man has ISI and Jammu and Kashmir terrorist links”. Justice Roy asked whether the state was saying it could not “take care of such hardened persons”.
Mr. Mehta said it was his “perception that naxalites cannot be treated with kid gloves”.
“Absolutely right, you have every right to project your perception,” Justice Joseph responded.
The court said it would take a serious view if the NIA was “trying to find a loophole to defy the court’s order”.
When Mr. Raju asked time till Monday to come up with more “suggestions” to make the house-arrest premises escape proof, the court said “you are delaying the implementation of our order. Do you think we cannot see through this?”
Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, for Mr. Navlakha, said her client was neither a “Houdini” nor a “trapeze artist” to squeeze his way out through a two-inch grill door. She said the kitchen door to the outside was already locked and a second CCTV camera had been installed. The karate classes were discontinued. She said Mr. Navlakha was not a resident of Mumbai and the facility, which was used as a residential unit, had been open to them.