Civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha (Photo Credit: PTI file)
Justice S Ravindra Bhat on Thursday became the fifth Supreme Court judge to recuse himself from hearing a plea filed by civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha, who has challenged the Bombay High Court order refusing to quash an FIR lodged against him in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.
On September 30, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had recused himself from hearing Navlakha's plea. Later on October 1, the three judges of a bench -- justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai -- had also recused themselves from hearing the matter.
When the matter came up for hearing on Thursday before a bench comprising justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat, justice Bhat recused himself from hearing the case.
When the bench was informed by Navlakha's counsel that the three-week protection given to him by the Bombay High Court was expiring on Friday, the bench said his petition would be heard by another bench on Friday.
The Maharashtra government had earlier filed a caveat in the matter seeking to be heard before any orders are passed. On September 13, the high court had refused to quash the FIR lodged against him in the 2017 Bhima- Koregaon case and for having alleged Maoist links, noting that there was prima facie substance in the case.
The high court had said, "Considering the magnitude of the case, we feel a thorough investigation is required".
The high court had, however, extended the protection from arrest to Navlakha for a period of three weeks to enable him to approach the Supreme Court to file an appeal against its order.
The FIR was lodged against Navlakha and others by the Pune Police in January 2018 after the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 that had allegedly triggered violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune district the next day.
The police have also alleged that Navlakha and other accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards overthrowing the government. Navlakha and the other accused were booked under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.
Besides Navlakha, four others -- Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj, are accused in the case.