PUDR expresses apprehensions over the health status of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha who surrendered before the NIA in Mumbai and Delhi respectively on 14 April 2020. Both are implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case of January 2018 in which eleven human rights defenders have been arrested.
Both Prof. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha were interrogated by the NIA and have been sent to judicial custody. It has come to light that one of the officers of the NIA, Mumbai has tested positive for Covid-19 in this period. Anand Teltumbde was subsequently tested for suspected exposure and his report is negative for Covid-19.
The NIA court at Mumbai rejected Anand Teltumbde’s bail application that had cited the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the high risk in jails and his continuing respiratory ailment. We wish to reiterate that the risks to those lodged in prisons are both very real and with grave consequences. Prof. Anand Teltumbde is 70 years and Mr. Gautam Navlakha is 67 years old. They have both voluntarily surrendered to the investigation. The investigation agency has expressed no desire for further custody for interrogation. Thus no purpose is being served by keeping them in custody at present.
PUDR has repeatedly raised the issue of the health risk that Covid 19 poses to jail inmates and has sent representations to the government and its High Powered Committees. It has demanded provision of bail, irrespective of the nature of the charges, to elderly inmates and those who are suffering from health issues. Jails are recognised to be amongst the most fertile breeding grounds for infectious diseases and the risk to life is obvious for those more vulnerable.
Hence PUDR appeals to the Central government and the courts to recognize the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19 and to permit interim bail to Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and the many others of advanced age and those with ailments currently lodged in prisons in the country.
Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar