The Karnataka High Court Friday granted bail to Mohan Nayak, one of the accused in the murder case of journalist Gauri Lankesh. A single judge bench consisting of Justice Vishwajith Shetty passed the order based on a petition by Nayak on December 7.
Several bail applications had been previously refused, with the most recent refusal on July 6 this year by the court of the principal district civil and sessions judge in Bengaluru.
Nayak’s counsel argued that out of the 527 witnesses in the chargesheet, only 90 had been examined, without a chance of completing the trial soon. He also argued that the material showed that Nayak was not party to the alleged conspiracy and further, that he was not at the meetings held by the other accused.
It was also put forth that the confession statement was taken against the provisions of the Control of Organised Crime Act (COCA), adding that there was no material evidence against Nayak except the voluntary statements. Nayak’s counsel pointed out that despite a direction in 2019 to expedite the trial, there had not been much progress.
Arguing against this, the Special Public Prosecutor pointed out that prior bail applications had been denied and there was no change in circumstances, further pointing out that the voluntary statements were taken before the COCA was invoked.
He further added that the delay in trial was rather due to various applications of the accused. The prosecutor also argued that they did not intend to examine all the 527 witnesses and of the 23 witnesses who spoke about Nayak’s role, only one had so far been examined and that the trial could be concluded within a year.
The bench observed, “Of the 23 charge sheet witnesses who have spoken about the role of the petitioner in the present case, it is seen that none of these witnesses have stated that the petitioner was a part of the meeting of the accused persons, wherein the accused had conspired to murder Gauri Lankesh. Most of the aforesaid chargesheet witnesses have only spoken about the petitioner taking a house on rent at Kumbalagodu in the outskirts of Bengaluru.”
The bench further noted that there were issues with the requirements of the COCA, as well as the length of the imprisonment of Nayak. It added, “The requirements of Section 19 of COCA (confessions made to police officer) have not been complied in the present case. The confessions have not been recorded by an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police in the manner as provided under Section 19 of the COCA. Even if the charges against the petitioner for the offences…are proved, the said offences are not punishable exclusively with death or life imprisonment and the minimum punishment for the said offences is imprisonment for five years. Petitioner has been in custody for the last more than five years.”
The bench also observed that the trial would not be completed soon and the delay was not attributable to the accused. Bail was granted subject to several conditions, namely a bond of Rs 1 lakh, regular appearances on hearing dates, the non-involvement of Nayak with any similar offence, threatening or tampering with witnesses and his remaining in the jurisdiction of the trial court.