Bhima Koregaon: Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira granted bail by Supreme Court

Arun Ferreira (In Grey), a human rights activist and lawyer has been arrested by Pune police connected to investigations into Bhima Koregaon Violence case on August 28, 2018 in Thane
Image caption,Arun Ferreira (in grey) was arrested by the police in August 2018

India’s Supreme Court has granted bail to two prominent rights activists who have been in jail since August 2018.

Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were among several arrested for allegedly inciting caste violence, a charge they deny.

The anti-terror law under which they were arrested makes it almost impossible to get bail.

The two approached the top court after their bail pleas were denied by a high court.

Mr Gonsalves and Mr Ferreira were among at least 14 others who were jailed in connection with violence that erupted in January 2018 in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state.

They were also accused of links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Among those arrested in the case was Stan Swamy – a respected tribal rights activist – who died of a cardiac arrest in hospital in July 2021. The 84-year-old had been denied bail twice despite failing health. His condition deteriorated rapidly in prison.

Prison authorities were criticised for denying him access to basic amenities such as a straw and sipper – a plastic drinking beaker with a spout or straw – which he needed to drink water because of hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s.

Lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, also arrested in the case, was granted bail in December 2021 while Varavara Rao, an 82-year-old Maoist ideologue and poet, was granted bail on medical grounds in August 2022.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Friday noted that nearly five years had passed since Mr Gonsalves and Mr Ferreira had been taken into custody.

Activist Vernon Gonsalves taken to Farazkhana Police Station on August 29, 2018 in Pune, India.
Image caption,Activist Vernon Gonsalves (seen above) and Arun Ferreira have been in jailed since 2018

While acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations, the bench said that mere accusations should not suffice as the sole basis for denying bail and prolonging their detention until trial.

The activists have been granted bail on the condition that they surrender their passports, do not leave the state of Maharashtra and use a mobile number that can be shared with the country’s anti-terror agency, National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Their mobile phones must be charged round the clock and location shared with an NIA officer for live-tracking, the court said.

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