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Bhima Koregaon activists' arrest case: Draw distinction between dissent and lawlessness, Supreme Court tells Maharashtra govt

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday extended the house arrest of five activists in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima case by a day, saying it would look into the case with a hawk's eye as liberty cannot be "sacrificed at the altar of conjectures".

File image of the Supreme Court of India. AP

File image of the Supreme Court of India. AP

The top court 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."Our institutions must be robust enough to accommodate any dissent or opposition to the system or even to this court. We cannot sacrifice liberty at the altar of conjectures,"a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said.

The apex court extended till Thursday the house arrest of the five rights activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — at their respective homes. During the hearing, it asked the Maharashtra government to place before it the "best documents available" as most of the material referred by it were "more like conjectures." Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra government referred to the various stages of investigations in the case and the materials which led to the arrest of the five activists.

"As a nation, we should be concerned at this. It is too serious a matter. I request the court to form an opinion only after hearing the matter in full," Mehta said. To this, Justice Chandrachud said "Yes, we will do that, but our mind is human" and added "we will look at this case with a hawk's eye". "You have to make a clear-cut distinction between dissent and opposition and attempts to create disturbance, law and order problem, overthrow elected government," it said.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for complainant Tushar Damgude, said "the court should hear the matter in full as what can be simple today may be complex tomorrow and what is complex today may be simple tomorrow". The bench asked the state government regarding the presence of the independent witnesses, who are employees of the Pune Municipal Corporation, during the search operations conducted at the homes of the activists. "Why did you have to carry two clerks from Pune Municipal Corporation to Maharashtra Sadan to act as 'panch' (independent) witnesses? The allegation of petitioners is that they were stock witnesses who were present during searches," the bench asked Mehta. The ASG said he will explain everything and the police will file an affidavit to clarify the position.

The bench, while referring to the documents submitted by the state government, pointed out that it has been said that students of a reputed university were at the site. "Your documents name a reputed university and a prominent social science institute." It said there are institutes and universities which keep sending students and scholars for research work in affected areas, which does not mean they are involved with any unlawful organisation. Mehta said one of the letters written on 18 April, 2017, by an arrested accused Rona Wilson to one Comrade Prakash reveal that there was systematic plan to create chaos and law and order problem.

He said this letter was recovered from the computer of Wilson during the search and investigation has revealed that Prakash was the chief communicator of the central committee of CPM. Mehta alleged that the activists had planned to organise an international seminar for creating an opinion and systematically create chaos in the society. At this, the bench said "our system should be robust enough to deal such international seminars." Mehta also alleged that former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba, who was convicted and sentenced to life by a trial court in 2017, has changed his name from Prakash to Chetan.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for petitioner Romila Thapar and others said this case is "cooked up" as the police has based its entire case on 13 letters, of which 6-7 were written to or received by Comrade Prakash. "If Comrade Prakash is GN Saibaba who is in jail since 7 March, 2017. Then how can he receive or write a letter even after his conviction", he said, adding that all intrinsic evidence is being cooked up in the name of a person who is in jail. He said that a supervisory court-monitored SIT should be formed to look into the entire spectrum of the case. Singhvi also questioned the presence of the 'panch' witnesses during the searches and arrests of the activists.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, Ashwini Kumar and advocate Prashant Bhushan also alleged that the entire case was cooked up and adequate safeguards should be provided to protect the liberty of five activists. The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue tomorrow. The apex court had on September 17 said it may order an SIT probe if it found that the evidence has been "cooked up". The plea by Thapar and 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 five activists.


Updated Date: Sep 20, 2018 08:17 AM

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