The Supreme Court turned down the plea for probe by a Special Investigation Team into the Bhima Koregaon case. The majority opinion by Justice A M Khanwilkar and CJI Dipak Misra dismissed the plea; however, Justice D Y Chandrachud dissented, holding the arrests to be baseless.

The judgment authored by Justice A M Khanwilkar for himself and CJI Dipak Misra held that it was not a case of arrest for dissent. No particular facts to show mala fides on the part of police was established. The named accused can avail of other remedies in law. The petition was disposed off with liberty for accused to approach courts and interim protection of four weeks granted.

Justice Chandrachud dissented from the majority to hold that the arrests were without any basis. He said that the Maharashtra police was biased and cannot be trusted. Therefore, he held that a court monitored investigation by SIT was necessary. “Court has to be vigilant to ensure the liberty of those who take up unpopular causes.Voices of opposition cannot be muzzled because it is a dissent”, he noted.

The petition was filed by five persons led by Professor Romila Thapar against “arbitrary arrests” of human rights defenders including Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha citing “Maoist links” in the Bhima-Koregaon case.

Protesting the “arbitrary” arrests, the petition said the arrests were made without a shred of evidence and alleged that an emergency-like situation existed in the country. The petitioners demanded a Court monitored SIT probe in the matter.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Khanwilkar and Chandrachud held that five rights activists–Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha– should be kept at at their respective homes till the disposal of the petition.

The activists alleged the arrest was an attempt to muzzle the voice of dissent.

“Issue appropriate direction, directing an independent investigation into arrest of these human rights activists in June and August 2018 in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence,” the petition said.

Human right activists have also sought an explanation from the Maharashtra government over the issue of arrests.

“Issue appropriate direction calling for an explanation from the state of Maharashtra for this sweeping round of arrests,” the petition said.

“The use of draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against these activists who have no history of indulging or instigating any violence is clearly malafide and an attempt to brow beat and intimidate the dissenting voices,” the petition said.

Petitioners’ counsel Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi contended that arrest and search were carried out in blatant violation of procedure. The witnesses who attested the arrest and search memos were brought by Maharashtra police from Pune, and were not local residents. Also, during the pendency of the case before the SC, the Maharashtra police had gone to press alleging that the activists were involved in a plot to assassinate the PM, even though such an allegation was conspicous by absecence in the FIR and the remand applications. He therefore contended that the attempt was to create a general impression that the activists were terrorists, even though there was no material on record to support such charges.

The Maharashtra Government defended the arrests stating that they had collected enough evidence to establish links of arrested activists with Maoist organization. The maintainability of the PIL at the behest of third parties was also questioned by the Government.

Background.

The issue has genesis in the multiple arrests and raids carried out by Pune police yesterday in several cities. The activists were arrested for their alleged Maoist link triggerring Bhima-Koregaon violence in Pune on January 1, 2018.

Gautam Navlakha is a civil liberties activist, who had association with People’s Union for Democratic Rights. He is an editorial consultant of Economic and Political Weekly. His residence in Delhi was raided by Maharshtra police on August 28. The police arrested him and secured a transit remand from a Saket court to take him to Pune. The remand order was stayed by the Delhi High Court. The bench of Justice Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel heard the matter in detail. After finishing hearing, the Delhi HC had started dictating order in the petition. Meanwhile, the SC passed the order in the petition filed by Romila Thapar and others. On knowing about the SC order, the Delhi HC bench halted the proceedings and adjourned the matter.

Lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who is known for her trade-unionism and civil rights activism in Chattisgarh for almost three decades, was arrested from her house at Badarpur in Haryana yesterday. Immediately after her arrest, a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The HC ordered that she should be kept at her house till the Magistrate decided on the transit remand. The HC also directed that the Maigstrate should examine compliance of provision of Section 41 and 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the police before issuing transit remand. However, by the time the High Court order came, the Chief Judicial Magistrate Faridabad had granted transit remand of Bharadwaj to Maharashtra police. Following the HC directive, the CJM recalled the first order, and held that she should not be taken out of Haryana.

Arun Ferreira is a Mumbai based activist, who was arrested in 2007 on suspected Maoist links. He was acquitted of all charges in 2014. He has written a prison memoir titled “Colours of Prison”, describing the torturous and inhuman treatment meted out to prison inmates. After his release from prison, Ferreira took law degree and enrolled as a lawyer, taking up cases of persons languishing in prisons without legal representation.

Mumbai-based Vernon Gonsalves was a social activist in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. He had earlier faced UAPA charges on suspected maoist links and was made accused in 20 cases. He was released in 2013 after serving sentence on conviction under UAPA. LiveLaw

Varavara Rao is an 78 year old Telugu poet. He is known for his poems calling for revolution by the workers’ class. He founded a group of revolutionary writers named “Virasam”. He had undergone imprisonment several times for his radical ideas.

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