New Delhi: The Supreme Court will examine today whether there is material supporting the arrest of five Left-wing activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence case. The court may also consider setting up a special investigation team (SIT) for a probe into the activists’ arrests if prima facie ground is established against their involvement.
In the last hearing on September 17, a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had extended the house arrest of the five rights activists – Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha till today.
“Every criminal investigation is based on allegations and we have to see whether there is some material,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.
The bench said if there are some grave lapses, it may consider prayers like investigation by a Special Investigating Team (SIT) into the case. The court also hinted at quashing the case if evidence against the arrested activists proved to be cooked up by Maharashtra Police.
Opposing the top court’s “interference”, the Centre said “Every case can’t come to the Supreme Court. It is a wrong procedure. Then every case will come to the Supreme Court.”
The Maharashtra government contended before the court that the petitioners were “strangers” to the mater and questioned their locus. Its counsel had said there was enough evidence including the materials taken from the activists’ computers and other sources which belied the perception of the petitioners about those arrested.
The bench fixed the plea by historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala for final hearing on Wednesday, i.e. today. The petitioners have sought an independent probe into the arrests and their immediate release.
The activists have remained under house arrest after they are arrested by the Maharashtra police on August 28 in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave — ‘Elgaar Parishad’ — held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village.
Prominent Telugu poet Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Navlakha from Delhi.
Earlier, the Maharashtra government had filed its response to the plea claiming the five activists were arrested due to the cogent evidence linking them with the banned CPI (Maoist) and not because of their dissenting views.
The state’s response had come in the backdrop of the apex court, while ordering the house arrest of the five activists on August 29, categorically stating that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy”.
The court had questioned the state police’s move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said all of them were reputed citizens and “stifling the dissent” was not good.