New Delhi: In a big boost for Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra govt, the Supeme Court on Friday refused to interfere in the arrest of five right-wing activists Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, accused of having links with Maoists, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence case. In a 2:1 judgement, the apex court also refused to set up an Special Investigation Team (SIT) and allowed the Maharashtra police to continue with its probe. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar, by majority extended the house arrest of five activists. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the other hand, gave a dissenting judgment.Also Read - Ghar Wali Diwali: Amrapali Homebuyers to Get Possession of Their Flats on Nov 4 | Read Details
“Upon perusal of the material (given by the investigating agency), we are of the considered opinion that it is not a case of arrest because of mere dissenting views expressed or difference in the political ideology of the named accused, but concerning their link with the members of banned organisation and its activities,” Justice Khanwilker said. (Amit Shah Slays Rahul Gandhi For Backing Activists in Bhima Koregaon Case as SC Extends House Arrest) Also Read - '100 Protesters in Rally And Only 23 Eyewitnesses?' SC Raps UP Govt Over Farmers' Killing in Lakhimpur
Meanwhile, Justice DY Chandrachud in his dissenting judgment, said that “dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy” and voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes. He lashed out at the Pune police for going public with evidence and termed it “disconcerting behaviour”. Also Read - NEET-PG Counselling 2021: Supreme Court Tells Centre to Put NEET-PG Counselling on Hold Until Decision on OBC, EWS Quota
“The court must be mindful of the need not to thwart a criminal investigation leading to the detection of unlawful acts,” he added.
“The court has to be vigilant in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to ensure that liberty is not sacrificed at the altar of conjectures. Individuals who assert causes which may be unpopular to the echelons of power are yet entitled to the freedoms which are guaranteed by the Constitution,” Justice Chandrachud added.
The court rejected the plea for a SIT probe into charges that the five have links with banned Communist Party of India-Maoist and were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to kill sovereign leaders. “The accused cannot ask for changing the investigating agency or to do investigation in a particular manner, including for court-monitored investigation,” Justice Khanwilkar said.
As the bench extended its interim order to extend their house arrest, in his dissenting judgment Justice Chandrachud recalled the sequence of events when a senior police officer held a press conference and released letters.
Justice Chandrachud said that the impartiality of the Maharashtra Police was in doubt as it had tried to prejudice public opinion. He questioned “whether the Pune police can be trusted to carry out impartial investigation”.
“The police are not adjudicators nor do they pronounce upon guilt. In the present case, police briefings to the media have become a source of manipulating public opinion by besmirching the reputations of individuals involved in the process of investigation. What follows is unfortunately a trial by the media. That the police should lend themselves to this process is a matter of grave concern,” Justice Chandrachud asserted.
“The conduct of the Pune police in utilising the agency of the electronic media to cast aspersions on those under investigation fortifies the need for an investigation which is fair. When the Joint Commissioner of Police and the Additional Director General of Police cast aspersions in the public media against persons whose conduct is still under investigation, and in disregard of proceedings pending before a judicial forum, it is the duty and obligation of this court to ensure that the administration of criminal justice is not derailed. The basic entitlement of every citizen faced with allegations of criminal wrongdoing is that the investigative process should be fair, Justice Chandrachud said, adding that “if this court were not to stand by the principles which we have formulated, we may witness a soulful requiem to liberty.”
He ordered a court-monitored SIT probe and said that the technicalities of law cannot be allowed to override the substantive justice.
“In the interest of justice, and particularly when there are serious doubts regarding the investigation being carried out, it is not only permissible, but our constitutional duty to ensure that the investigation is carried out by a special investigation team or a special investigative agency so that justice is not compromised,” he said.
Circumstances have been drawn to our notice to cast a cloud on whether the Maharashtra police has in this case acted as fair and impartial investigating agency, Justice Chandrachud said, adding that sufficient material has been placed before it bearing on the need to have an independent investigation.
The five activists were arrested on August 28 from various cities on charges of having Maoist links. The Maharashtra Police had claimed that it was in possession of “digital evidence about a larger conspiracy to mobilise cadres for action against security forces”. The Pune police had alleged that the Maoists had plans to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Welcoming the verdict, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis said that the decision of the top court proved that there was no conspiracy behind action by the state police against Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha.
“The Supreme Court has vindicated the state of the government and the Pune police. The court has no doubt over the material evidence submitted,” the chief minister told reporters soon after the verdict. Fadnavis also defended the state police for addressing a press conference after the arrest, which had been come in for criticism. “A lot of things were said against the police after the arrest and an atmosphere was created by pseudo, so-called neo-liberals in the media that the arrests have been made without evidence. The police had to say that the arrests were not motivated but backed by real and powerful evidence,” he added.