File photo of activist Gautam Navlakha. | (Screengrab, Copyrights: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)
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New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Friday asked probing questions to social activist Gautam Navlakha’s counsel regarding his links with banned Communist Party of India-Maoist.

A bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Deepak Gupta, which granted Navlakha interim protection from arrest till October 15, referred to the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) as it made some strong observations on the scope of membership in banned organisations.

“Being a member is not important, but attending meetings and assisting the organisation is a criminal offence under UAPA. Therefore, one need not be a member of a banned organization to have proceeded under UAPA,” Justice Mishra said.

Navlakha’s counsel, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, contended before the court that his client had held critical viewpoint of various government policies, but never raised any issue on the territorial integrity of the country.

He said his client had been held under doubt by the Maoists for being a government agent, as he transmitted information for both the Maoists and the government. “He had acted as a channel of communication,” Singhvi told the court citing Navlakha holds an ideological belief, but it is not a belief in secession and disaffection.

Justice Mishra engaged Singhvi in a conversation exploring the scope of membership.

“What is the membership concept, and how to test if somebody continues to be a member. If membership is not inferable by documents, then could the activities come under the sections of UAPA?” said Justice Mishra referring this contextualisation on the matter an important issue.

“In this case, we can forget membership, but you have to explain assistance… simple membership is not the issue in this case,” he observed.

Maharashtra government counsel Nishant Katneshwarkar, objecting protection from arrest for Navlakha, contended before the court that a Maoist letter reveals Navlakha was sent on a fact-finding mission to report against the state machinery.

“This mission was funded by Maoists, and this information was recovered from his computer. He has deep-rooted involvement with Maoists, the report recovered says. He has also written a letter to Rona Wilson (who was sentenced to life in 2017). He was also sent on a fact-finding mission in Kashmir,” Katneshwarkar contended, insisting that Navlakha is a member of banned CPI-Maoist.

The court asked him to provide material against Navlakha.

He told the court that charge sheet has not filed in this matter, and the investigation is ongoing.

Justice Mishra also queried Singhvi: “Why have you not filed for anticipatory bail?” Singhvi insisted his client needs protection from arrest for three to four weeks.

Giving Navlakha till the next hearing on October 15, the court directed the Maharashtra government not to take any coercive step and place all materials collected during the probe against him by that date.

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