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HC questions Maha police on Navlakha's arrest, says every minute of custody a matter of concern

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Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Delhi High Court today questioned the legality of the Maharashtra Police's decision to arrest rights activist Gautam Navlakha and the transit remand order to take him to a Pune court in connection with a case relating to the Bhima-Koregaon violence of last year.
However, after the Supreme Court directed that Navlakha and four other activists would be kept under house arrest till September 6, the high court said it would pass any direction only after going through the top court's order tomorrow.
"Every minute of a person put into custody is a matter of concern," a high court bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel observed, while questioning the Maharashtra Police for not providing all documents, translated from Marathi, to Navlakha, who was arrested for alleged unlawful activities.
The high court said it "will examine the legality" of the state police's action to arrest Navlakha and the transit remand order passed by a magisterial court here.
But the proceedings took a turn when the bench was in the middle of dictating the order and was informed by the Maharashtra Police counsel that the Supreme Court has stayed the transit remand orders of all the five arrested activists, including Navlakha, and directed that all of them would be kept under house arrest till September 6.
The high court posted the matter for tomorrow afternoon, saying it will pass a direction only after going through the Supreme Court order.
Navlakha's counsel maintained that they have not approached the apex court and the order would not be applicable on him.
The Maharashtra Police wanted to arrest Navlakha and take him to Pune in connection with an FIR lodged there following an event -- 'Elgaar Parishad' (conclave) -- held on December 31 last year that had triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village.
During over one-and-a half-hour long hearing, the high court was informed by advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for Navlakha, that despite the court order, they have not been provided with complete translated documents by the Maharashtra Police.
The bench questioned the legality of the transit order, saying it was apparent that the magistrate could not have applied its mind.
If the state police could not complete translation of Marathi documents since yesterday, how could the trial court pass the transit remand order within a few minutes, it said, adding "the practical issue is, if the court could not understand what is there in the documents, how could the remand order be passed."

"Without translated documents, how could the magisterial court have applied its mind to issue transit remand order," it asked.
When Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, representing the Maharashtra Police, sought some time to translate the required Marathi documents, the court asked "when will you be able to give complete translation of the documents? Because the question is of personal liberty of a person".
During the proceedings, the bench said "even if all other arrests in the matter are valid, it would not lend validity to this arrest" of Navlakha.
The high court had yesterday adjourned the matter for today with a direction to the Maharashtra Police to get the Marathi documents translated. In the morning, the court was informed by Maharashtra Police's counsel that the translation work was yet to be completed and they would provide the copies to Navlakha's counsel by noon.
In the post-lunch session, the activist's counsel said they have received translated copy of the FIR but not other documents and hence did not know the grounds of arrest, as it was written in Marathi.
"If grounds of arrest are written in Marathi, certainly the person, who does not know the language, will not know what it is," the court said and asked why only three pages were given to them and not the entire bunch of documents.
To this, Lekhi said they were not averse to giving documents to Navlakha and it was duly communicated to the activist why he was arrested.
Ramakrishnan claimed that on the face of it, there was no basis to arrest the activist and his liberty was taken away.
While the court said that in a "technical sense", the activist was not yet an accused, Lekhi maintained that any person against whom formal accusation is made becomes an accused that moment.
The bench said when the provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked on a person, it becomes difficult for him to get bail and the magistrate should be more cautious while sending him to custody.
The bench also asked whether it was mandatory that every official or legal document in Maharashtra has to be in Marathi. "When you go to another state for arresting someone, you undertake the risk of going to another state where people do not under your language. The court has to be satisfied that the case is made out."

While questioning the police as to why witnesses were brought from Maharashtra to authenticate the arrest, the bench said if a person is brought by the police, how can he or she be an independent witness.
Navlakha was arrested yesterday following searches in several cities and the arrest of five activists, including him. A transit remand was also secured from Saket district court in South Delhi to take him to Pune. This order was later stayed by the high court.

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First Published: Aug 29 2018 | 8:25 PM IST

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