The Supreme Court has sought the Assam government’s response on a bail plea by suspended IPS officer N Rajamarthandan, accused of providing information to a member of a socio-political organisation flouting RTI Act rules.
A vacation bench of justices M M Shantanagoudar and Deepak Gupta issued notice to the state government and listed the matter for further hearing on June 19. Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for Rajamarthandan said the plea is against the May 15 order of the Gauhati High Court rejecting his bail.
In his plea, Rajamarthandan said that the case arises out of the disclosure under the Right To Information Act, 2005 of the SIT progress report in a local case.
“For no more than adhering to the spirit of the Right to Information Act, petitioner (Rajamarthandan) is being prosecuted and has been in custody since April 6, 2017, on registration of an FIR for offences under section 418, 471, 468 and 217 of IPC as well as section 5 (b) of Official Secrets Act and Section 98A of Assam Police Act,” he said.
The IPS officer of 2006 batch said that none of the offences are prima facie made out and all but one are bailable.
“Section 468 of IPC, is the sole non-bailable offence carrying a maximum of seven years, and the arrest itself is in contravention of the statutory requirement of section of 41 CrPC, that reasons should be recorded for effecting an arrest in cases carrying a seven year term or less,” he said.
The officer giving detail of the case said that a local rioting incident took place under Silapthar police station on March 6 where an office of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was ransacked and a case was registered against various persons alleged to be members of an organisation Nikhil Bharat Banglali Udbastu Samanway Samitee (NBBUSS).
On March 6, NBBUSS chief Subodh Biswas had allegedly instigated a mob at a rally with his speech that led to the incident. He was later arrested on March 22 from a place close to Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas.
The IPS officer said that around 60 people were arrested by the local police in this regard and an SIT was set up to supervise the investigation by the police in the case.
“Petitioner, who was SSP, CID headed the four member SIT team. The other three members were from the local Assam Police but not the CID,” Rajamarthandan said.
He added that SIT gave its progress report on March 19, which noted the statements of 20 odd witnesses, video evidence and highlighted that that there is no direct evidence to show the presence of many arrested persons or others named in the FIR.
The officer in his plea said that the SIT progress report directed the investigating officer that cogent material should be collected before roping in people as offenders and keeping them in custody. The report was also submitted in court.
“The petitioner was also Public Information Officer, CID, an office under the Right to Information Act. Upon an application made by one Ambika Ray, advocate, under the Act, the petitioner is said to have given a copy of the said report to him,” he said. The officer claimed that alleging that this handing over a copy of the progress report was an offence, an FIR was lodged against him on April 4, and subsequently the petitioner was arrested on April 6, after two days of interrogation.
“The state’s case is that the RTI application is ‘suspected to be’ in the petitioner’s hand and that this amounts to a forgery. It is also alleged that the information was shared on ‘WhatsApp’ with the applicant Ambika Ray,” he said. He said that the state government has claimed that the CID is exempted from the Right to Information Act and so the progress report should not have been shared.
The incident of March 6 had sparked off widespread protests with the several organisations viewing it as an attack on the Assamese by the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.