The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has told the Bombay High Court that accused Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, arrested for allegedly making inflammatory speeches during the Elgar Parishad convention in Pune in December 2017, are trying to delay the trial of the case.
Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha are among 15 urban Naxals who were arrested by the NIA for their role in instigating violence and plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a result of the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
NIA’s Mumbai branch SP V Vikraman, who filed an affidavit before a division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal, has said that both the accused are trying to delay the trial by filing petitions on one ground or the other.
The NIA’s affidavit is in response to a fresh petition filed by Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha. They have demanded cloned copies of electronic devices like hard disks confiscated from them.
They want the framing of charges to be put on hold until they find cloned copies of the digital evidence and have also alleged that the digital evidence devices were tampered with. Sudha Bhardwaj approached the Bombay High Court on June 23 after the special NIA court in Mumbai rejected her plea seeking clone copies of electronic evidence. Gautam Navlakha has also filed a similar petition before the High Court seeking a stay on the trial until the clone copies are made available by the NIA.
However, the NIA has denied these allegations. The NIA said that the allegations in the wee hours are nothing but a fictitious plea and told the court that the accused are deliberately “mixing up material facts and violating them” without any basis. The NIA alleged that the urban Maoists were doing this to mislead the court and sabotage the trial proceedings. The NIA said that digital evidence is examined by experts from the Forensic Science Laboratory.
“Appeal under Section 207 of CrPC praying for cloned copies of electronic evidence to be granted to the accused persons. The five pending clone copies in respect of the electronic equipment of the appellant and his co-accused have not yet been received from FSL,” the affidavit said.
The NIA opposed their demand for an interim stay on the proceedings and urged the court against such petitions by the accused persons. As far as clone copies of digital evidence are concerned, the NIA has told the court that they will be made available only after they are received from the Forensic Science Laboratory, Mumbai.
All the accused in this case have been provided by the NIA with certified hard copies of the documents which the agency has mentioned in its charge sheet. The NIA said the agency is yet to receive the five final reports related to the equipment of Bharadwaj and Navlakha. And once the NIA gets them, it will be produced in the special NIA court and both the accused can obtain these documents under due process of law as prescribed in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The NIA said that the agency has filed a charge sheet against the arrested accused on the basis of strong evidence. It further stated that the High Court had dismissed the petition of the accused on admissibility of evidence.
The NIA had on August 9 submitted a draft charge sheet in the Elgar Parishad case before the special trial court. The probe agency has charged him under various sections of the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act including terrorist, unlawful activities, conspiracy. Membership of a banned organization and raising funds for it, criminal conspiracy, waging war or attempting to wage war against the Central Government, promoting sedition and enmity.
Senior advocate Yug Mohit Choudhary, appearing for Bhardwaj, objected that the trial should not be started until the cloned copy of the digital hard disk is given to the accused. He said the denial of copy was a violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution. The NIA reminded its counsel that the supply of certain pending electronic documents which are already relied upon against the accused cannot amount to an alleged non-remediable violation of fundamental rights.