“Activists’ Arrest Not Based On Dissent”: Top Court Refuses Special Probe

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New Delhi: The five activists arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence will remain under house arrest for four more weeks, a three-judge Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said today; however, the majority view rejected the activists’ plea for a probe by a special investigation team or SIT.

In a 2:1 verdict, Justice AM Khanwilkar said the court has declined from giving its observation on the matter as it may hamper the case. Justice Khanwilkar, who read out the majority verdict for himself and Chief Justice Misra, said the arrests were not because of dissent by the activists but there was prima facie material to show their link with the banned CPI (Maoist) group.

Justice DY Chandrachud, who read out the dissenting view, said “there is no basis to link the activists with the allegations by police.”

The five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — are under house since August 29. The Maharashtra police have alleged their actions at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ meeting led to violence in Koregaon-Bhima, 29 km from Pune, on December 31 last year.

Justice Chandrachud questioned the Maharashtra police’s decision to hold a big press conference and “use media to cast aspersion on the activists”. “There are serious concern and cloud over the probe over police action for briefing and using the electronic media for media trial,” he said.

Last month, senior officers of the Maharashtra police had claimed solid evidence including “thousands of documents and letters” that established the activists’ links to Maoists and their role in facilitating weapons and funding. In front of cameras, senior police officer Param Bir Singh had read out a letter exchanged between an activist arrested earlier in June, which spoke of planning “another Rajiv Gandhi-like incident to end Modi-raj”.

“The court has to be vigilant that liberty is not sacrificed on the altar of conjecture. The conduct of police to use the media to cast aspersion on the activists is questionable,” Justice Chandrachud said.

As an example of what happens when the police falter in handling important cases, Justice Chandrachud pointed to the ‘ISRO spy case’ in which the Kerala police were found responsible for filing false cases against the space agency’s top scientists. “Recently, Supreme Court granted compensation to a scientist of Rs. 50 lakh after 24 years of the incident,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The majority verdict disagreed with the petition by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking immediate release of the five activists, with liberty to the accused to approach a court of their choosing. Justice Khanwilkar said their house arrest duration has been extended so that they can seek legal remedy.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the Supreme Court’s decision on the activists’ arrest proves there was no conspiracy behind the action by the state police.

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