New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday halted Pune Police’s bid for immediate custody of the five noted rights activists – Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha – who were arrested on Tuesday for suspected Maoist links. Meanwhile, the apex court has ordered they be kept under house arrest till September 6. Also Read - Don't Want to Deal With Something The Govt Already Tackling, Says SC on Plea Over Migrant Workers' Plight
“Dissent is the ‘safety valve of democracy’. If you don’t allow these safety valves, it will burst,” observed the Supreme Court. Also Read - COVID-19 Lockdown: Supreme Court to Hear Plea on Migrant Workers on Monday
While granting relief to the activists by ordering that they will be under house arrest at their homes till the next day of hearing on September 6, the top court did not consider for now the vehement opposition of the Maharashtra government challenging the locus of them seeking relief on their behalf, and calling them “strangers”. Also Read - Amid Lockdown, Supreme Court Grants Rs 4 Lakh to Woman Rendered Homeless
The apex court questioned the state police’s move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said that all of them were reputed citizens and “stifling the dissent” was not good. Taking a strong note of the submissions of the state government, it said, “This (arrest) is a wider issue. Their (petitioners’) problem is quelling dissent.”
“Nine months after Bhima-Koregaon, you go and arrest these people,” the bench asked, while taking serious note of Maharashtra’s plea that they were arrested in pursuance of an FIR.
Pune police yesterday raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested five of them — poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi. The raids were carried out as part of a probe into a conclave — Elgar Parishad — held in Koregaon-Bhima near Pune on December 31 last year, which had allegedly triggered violence the next day.
Shortly after the apex court order by a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, a Pune court directed the city police to send the arrested human rights activists back to their homes.
NHRC Takes Suo Cognisance of Media Reports in Bhima Koregaon Violence
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday took suo motu cognisance of media reports regarding the arrest of five activists by the police from different cities in connection with the investigations into the Bhima Koregaon violence. The NHRC said that it had observed that the standard operating procedure in connection with the arrests made had not followed the proper procedure of involving the police authorities which may ultimately amount to the violation of human rights.
It issued notices to the Maharashtra government and the state’s police chief and asked for a ‘factual report’ within four weeks.
Congress’s Take on Arrests
The Congress said the government should put in public domain the reasons for the arrest of human rights activists or else such an action can only be characterised as “witch-hunt” and “vendetta”. “It is incumbent upon the government to put in public space as to what are the reasons as to why these arrests (of human rights activists) have taken place. Otherwise, these multi-city arrests can only be characterised as witch-hunt and as vendetta,” he told reporters.
RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Accuses PM Modi of Taking Country Towards “a Totalitarian Regime”
RJD president Lalu Prasad alleged Narendra Modi government is taking the country towards “a totalitarian regime” and false security alarms were being raised to prepare the ground for imposing Emergency. He also likened the situation in Bihar under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to that of ancient Rome when emperor Nero was playing the flute while his kingdom was burning.
“A number of persons have been arrested for alleged Maoist links. Reports have also surfaced alleging that there are threats to the life of the prime minister. All this seems to be a ploy for clamping the Emergency in the country,” Prasad told reporters.
Country Under ‘Undeclared Emergency’, Claims Civil Rights Defenders
Civil rights defenders today claimed that the country was under “undeclared emergency”. A rally was organised from College Street to Esplanade area in Kolkata, where people from various backgrounds participated to condemn the arrest and demanded the immediate release of the activists. They also condemned the pan-India crackdown on Left-wing activists. Civil rights activist Sujato Bhadra said the democracy in India was going through one of its “darkest phases”.
(With PTI Inputs)