Activist Sudha Bharadwaj walked out of jail around noon on Thursday after spending three years and three months in prison on charges of allegedly fomenting violence in Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon village in 2018.
Byculla jail superintendent Yashwant Phad said that they received court papers ordering the release of Bharadwaj on Thursday morning. After due verification of the court orders and completing subsequent formalities, she was allowed to leave the jail premises at about 12.15 pm. Dressed in blue salwar-kurta, Bhardwaj stepped in a car waiting for her outside the jail and left.
“It is the first crack in the wholly fabricated case and it will only get wider,” said Payoshi Roy, advocate for Bharadwaj. She declined to comment further on the release.
“We are extremely happy at Sudha’s release. But the HC order 1.12.21 overlooked the default bail applications filed at the same time by her co-accused. So HC should take suo-moto notice in the constitution of life and liberty that her 8 co-accused too are entitled to default bail,” said Civil Rights Activists and lawyer, Susan Abhraham.
On Wednesday, the special National Investigation Agency court in Mumbai ordered Bharadwaj released on A cash bail of ₹50,000. She was lodged in the Byculla women’s prison on charges of terrorism and conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
A day before, the Supreme Court dismissed appeal filed by the NIA challenging the Bombay high court’s December 1 order that granted default bail plea of the 60-year-old trade unionist and lawyer.
It was not clear where she will stay because the NIA court restrained her from leaving its jurisdiction in Mumbai. Her lawyers refused to divulge the location where the activist will be residing during the pendency of the trial. She had asked the court for permission to go back to Chhattisgarh or Delhi, but the request was turned down.
On December 1, the Bombay HC allowed default bail to Bharadwaj, underlining that a Pune sessions judge, who granted police a 90-day extension on November 26, 2018, to file the charge sheet, did not have jurisdiction to do so as only a special NIA court could hear UAPA cases. The HC pointed out that the Pune sessions court was not notified as a special court under the NIA Act. Also, there was already a special NIA court in existence in Pune at the relevant time, it had noted.
Bharadwaj is the first person in the high-profile case to be granted default bail. The high court rejected the bail applications of eight co-accused, all of whom face terrorism and conspiracy charges under the UAPA. One of the other accused, poet Varavara Rao, is out on medical bail, and a second accused, Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, died in July.
The activists are accused of delivering inflammatory speeches during an event called Elgar Parishad organised in Pune on December 31, 2017. The activists have denied all charges and accused the prosecution of planting evidence.