Weeks after keeping the five rights activists under house arrest in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will resume the hearing in the case. The activists were held by Pune police in August for their alleged role in the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
On September 6, the apex court had extended the house arrest of prominent Left-wing activists who were arrested after Pune police conducted raids across several states as part of a probe into anti-Dalit violence at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after the Elgar Parishad conclave on December 31, 2017.
The Supreme Court on September 6 had slammed the Maharashtra government over state police addressing the media on Bhima-Koregaon raids. “Keep your police officer in line. He is talking to the press, insinuating the Supreme Court is wrong. We don't want your police officer to tell us we are wrong. You are ruining people's reputations, casting aspersions on the court,” Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud told the Maharashtra government, asking to direct its police to be more responsible when the matter is heard by the SC.
Earlier the apex court on August 29 had ordered the house arrest till September 6 observing that dissent was the “safety valve” of democracy.
The Maharashtra police on August 28 had conducted raids and arrested prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao from Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad and civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha from Delhi. The raids were carried out as part of a probe into an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 in 2017, which had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in Pune district of Maharashtra.
The state police filed an affidavit in response to a plea of historian Romila Thapar and four others -- economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpandey and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala -- challenging the arrest of the five activists in connection with the case, claiming they were planning to carry out violence in the country and ambush the security forces. The police said the activists were arrested as there was cogent evidence linking them with the banned CPI(Maoist) and not because of their dissenting views.
The top court did not consider the vehement opposition of Maharashtra government challenging the locus of the petitioners seeking relief on their behalf, and calling them “strangers”. The plea, by Thapar, has sought an independent probe into the arrests and their immediate release. "The petitioners, who are strangers to the offence under investigation, are also praying for bail on behalf of the persons arrested during an ongoing investigation, strictly in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure after the investigating agencies having gathered requisite incriminating material against the said individuals," the affidavit said.
The police also told the court that the activists were part of the criminal conspiracy and active members of the banned CPI (Maoist), who had arranged public meetings under the banner of 'Elgaar Parishad'. The affidavit said the state was committed to protecting fundamental rights of every citizen and a mere dissenting view, difference in ideology or vehement objections to political thinking, cannot only not be prohibited but should always be welcomed in any democratic country.
"Five accused persons for whose benefit the present petition is filed are not arrested based upon any dissenting views expressed by them or difference in their political or other ideologies...During the course of an intense investigation since January 8, 2018 (the date on which the FIR is registered), serious criminal offences are made out and incriminating material has emerged against them," it said.
"This Court is dealing with persons against whom cogent evidence has so far come on record showing that they are active members of the banned terrorist organisation namely, CPI (Maoist), and they are involved in not only planning and preparing for violence but were in the process of creating large-scale violence, destruction of property resulting into chaos (sic) in the society as per the agenda prepared by the CPI (Maoist), which was banned as a terrorist organisation in 2009," it said.