The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday submitted draft charges against the 15 accused arrested in the Elgar Parishad case. The charges include sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act pertaining to terrorist acts, unlawful activities, conspiracy, membership of banned organisation and raising funds for it.
The NIA has also proposed to charge the accused for criminal conspiracy, waging or attempting to wage a war or abetting a war against the Government of India, sedition, and promoting enmity under sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Special public prosecutor Prakash Shetty submitted before the court that the draft charges — a copy of which was not provided to the accused — relies on the chargesheets filed earlier against them.
Draft charges are a step towards commencing the criminal trial. The special court has to hear both sides and decide which of the sections invoked by the investigating agency the accused can be charged with based on prima facie evidence. The court will then read out all the sections to the accused that they will face during the trial. Once the accused plead not guilty to them, the trial can commence.
In this case, the NIA took over the probe from the Pune police in 2020. In October last year, the central agency filed a chargesheet against eight accused including academic Anand Teltumbde, activist Gautam Navlakha, Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu, cultural group members Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap, Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy and absconding accused Milind Teltumbde. The Pune police had earlier arrested Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj.
The draft charges were submitted against the 15 accused after the case against Swamy was abated after his death last month. The NIA claims that the accused are members of the banned organization Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had done activities furthering its intentions.
On Monday, the lawyers for the accused said that while the NIA had relied on evidence allegedly recovered from electronic devices of the seven accused it arrested last year, the cloned copies were not provided to them. The lawyers submitted that till the copies are provided, the charges cannot be framed as they need to be given access to the evidence for their defence.
It was also submitted that even the Pune police had only given cloned copies of some of the devices. They said that an appeal has been filed before the Bombay High Court seeking copies of the devices. Special Judge Dinesh E Kothalikar said that since there is no stay on the case by the higher courts, the court will go ahead with framing charges.
On Monday, the court also received a report from the Superintendent of Taloja Central jail, where the male accused are lodged, claiming that there is a complaint of misconduct against Dhawale, Gaichor and Ferreira. The court also directed the NIA to file a reply to the bail applications filed by Gaichor and Gorkhe. The two have said in their pleas that the NIA has nothing on record to show that the accused have attempted to further any terrorist activity. Their plea also says that the allegations are vague. The court will hear the applications on August 23.