Bhima Koregaon activists' arrest case: SC orders four more weeks of house arrest, rejects demand for SIT probe

The Supreme Court on Friday said that the interim order passed by the court for house arrest of activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case shall continue for four more weeks. The apex court gave out the verdict rejecting a plea by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking the immediate release of the five arrested rights activists and an SIT probe into their arrest.

The court with a 2-1 majority held that the investigation officers are permitted to continue with the investigation and that the accused persons have no say in seeking investigation of their choice. "They cannot choose the manner of arrest," Justice AM Khanwilkar read out the judgment on behalf of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and himself. "Accused persons cannot choose which investigating agencies should investigate. This is not a case of arrest merely because of dissent or difference in political views," Khanwilkar held in court.

 Bhima Koregaon activists arrest case: SC orders four more weeks of house arrest, rejects demand for SIT probe

Representational image. AP

The top court also declines to constitute a SIT for the case and said that the accused were at liberty to pursue other appropriate remedies. "We don't wish to go into the facts of the case as it may create prejudice," Khanwilkar stated.

However, Chandrachud dissented again, saying that he was unable to agree with views of Misra and Khanwilkar. "Petition isn't motivated. Technicalities cannot override substantive justice," he said. He strongly argued his case against the Pune Police, berating it for holding a press conference immediately after the court had passed an interim order.

"A letter alleged to be written by Sudha Bhardwaj was flashed on a TV channel. Acts of Maharashtra Police raises the question of whether it can be trusted to carry out the investigation," Chandrachud remarked. "Voices of opposition cannot be muzzled because it is a dissent. Deprivation of liberty cannot be compensated later," Chandrachud said asking for a SIT to be constituted to look into the matter.

A bench headed by Misra had reserved the judgment on 20 September after the counsel for both parties, including senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Harish Salve and Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, concluded their submissions.

The bench, that also comprised Justices AM Khaniwlkar and DY Chandrachud, had asked the Maharashtra police to file their case diary pertaining to the ongoing investigation in the case. The five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — are under arrest at their respective homes since 29 August.

Justice DY Chandrachud had written the judgment for CJI, himself and Justice AM Khanwilkar.

The plea by Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala, has sought an independent probe into the arrests and the immediate release of the activists. The Maharashtra police had arrested them on 28 August in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave — 'Elgaar Parishad' — held on 31 December 2017 that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state. The apex court had on 19 September said it would look into the case with a "hawk's eye" as "liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjectures".

It had told the Maharashtra government that there should be a clear-cut distinction between opposition and dissent on one hand and attempts to create disturbance, law and order problems or overthrow the government on the other. Senior advocate Anand Grover, Ashwini Kumar and advocate Prashant Bhushan had also alleged that the entire case was cooked up and adequate safeguards should be provided to protect the liberty of the five activists. The apex court had also said that it may order a SIT probe if it found that the evidence has been "cooked up".

At one point, the Chief Justice had suggested that they (accused) could continue to contest their case in the competent lower courts. The chief justice mooted transferring the pending cases against the activists to another court while continuing with their house arrests. But senior advocate AM Singhvi, for petitioner Romila Thapar and four others, persisted that the apex court should first hear them. The hearing also saw the Centre (through Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh)  step in and voice its apprehensions about the problem of “Naxalism” in the country, The Hindu reported.

“This concerns serious offences. There is material recovered from their laptops, computers, hard disks, etc. We have videotaped all our raids from the moment we knocked on their doors to the recovery and seizures. This was done to protect ourselves against future allegations of high-handedness which may be raised against our investigation done in compliance with the CrPC,” Mehta had argued in court while presenting his case for the Maharashtra government, the report stated.

With inputs from PTI, The Leaflet and Bar and Bench

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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2018 12:06:47 IST