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Bhima Koregoan hearing: SC agrees to examine evidence against activists, says it may allow SIT probe if material is 'cooked up'

The Supreme Court Monday said on Monday that it may order an investigation a Special Investigation Team if it found that evidence against five activists – arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case – was "cooked up". The top court made the statement as it extended the house arrests of the activists till Wednesday, 19 September, and scheduled the next hearing for the same day.

Teams of the Pune Police had raided the homes of activists Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha on 29 August, claiming that statements made at an event they had attended on 31 December had triggered the violence in Bhima Koregaon on New Year's Day. They have been under house arrest since their homes were raided and they were briefly detained.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine the evidence gathered by the Maharashtra Police in the investigation against the activists to decide whether there is any substance to them and whether the inquiry should continue or be quashed.

"First of all we must have a look at the material. If we find that the material is cooked up, we will set up SIT. ... How can we adjudicate against them (Maharashtra Police) without hearing them and looking at the material. We will see the materials of the agency.

"Every criminal investigation is based on allegations, and we have to see whether there is some material (to the evidence)," the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, said.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra government, said the court should make it clear that after the adjudication from the apex court, the arrested accused cannot avail remedies simultaneously on similar issues at other judicial fora.

 Bhima Koregoan hearing: SC agrees to examine evidence against activists, says it may allow SIT probe if material is cooked up

Representational image. AP

Mehta also argued that there was enough evidence to indicate that these activists were involved in criminal acts, reported Live Law.

Along with ASG Maninder Singh, Mehta strongly objected to the petition on the grounds of locus, reported Bar and Bench. Singh said that the problem of Naxalism is widespread and also questioned the petitioners about why they chose to approach the Supreme Court directly without exploring alternative remedies first, reported Live Law.

Mehta's statement was in reference to the petition in the Supreme Court filed by historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpandey and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala. Through the plea, they have sought an independent investigation into the arrests of the five activists and their immediate release.

Senior advocated Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the petitioners, said that they are seeking an independent inquiry in the case, pointing out that the Supreme Court has the authority to order an independent probe under its monitoring. Singhvi also questioned why the FIR against the activists did not mention any charges related to an alleged plot to assassinate the prime minister despite several reports on the matter, and why the National Investigation Agency or the Central Intelligence Bureau are not investigating the case if such serious charges were reported.

"What we have been hearing that there is a possible attempt to eliminate the prime minister. The FIRs and others do not talk about assassination plot," Singhvi said.

He said after the top court's observation asking Maharashtra Police not to speak to media about the probe, the "spreading of lies has subsided" but not stopped.

"Canard has been spread about criminal past of some of the activists," he said and gave details about the status of the matters against some of them.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra indicated that the issue of an independent investigation may be left for lower courts to decide, while the activists continue to remain under house arrest.

Prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao was arrested from Hyderabad, while activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Farreira were arrested from Mumbai. Trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj was taken into custody from Faridabad in Haryana, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha was arrested from New Delhi.

The Maharashtra Police had arrested them in connection with an FIR lodged after the Elgar Parishad event on 31 December, which they claim triggered the violence in Bhima Koregaon village the next day.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Sep 17, 2018 21:37:15 IST