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Koregaon Bhima inquiry commission to resume work in August, conduct virtual hearings

The two-member commission, headed by retired high court justice J N Patel, was constituted by the state government on February 9, 2018, to probe into the “exact sequence” of events that led to violence on the 200th anniversary of Battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1 that year.

Written by Chandan Haygunde | Pune |
Updated: July 10, 2021 9:19:00 am
One person had died and several others were injured in the violence on the 200th anniversary of Battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018. (File Photo)

The Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry is likely to resume its work next month and conduct partial virtual hearings of witnesses in view of the prevailing pandemic situation. A demonstration in this regard was also conducted in Mumbai on Thursday in the presence of top officials from the government and members of the commission.

The two-member commission, headed by retired high court justice J N Patel, was constituted by the state government on February 9, 2018, to probe into the “exact sequence” of events that led to violence on the 200th anniversary of Battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1 that year. One person had died and several others were injured in the violence.

The Commission was initially given four months’ time to submit its report, but its tenure had to be extended repeatedly to allow it to complete its investigation. The Commission then received three extensions of four months each, one extension of three months, one of six months and the last extension of two months was from February 8, 2020, to April 8, 2020. Hearings of senior officers and also Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar were scheduled before the commission between March 30 and April 4, 2020.

However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the commission issued a letter on March 23, 2020, postponing all hearings until further notice.

Meanwhile, the period of extension granted to the commission by the government expired on April 8. The commission had then sought further extension of at least six months saying that it intended to examine nearly 40-50 more witnesses, including police and revenue officers and also some prominent political leaders. Also, the commission had written to the government on July 7, 2020, seeking a bigger place for conducting hearings, where it is possible to maintain social distancing and take necessary precautions. The commission had pointed out that the places where it has been conducting hearings in Mumbai and Pune are small and congested. Not only our staffers but also some of the lawyers and witnesses appearing before the commission are senior by age and are suffering from various ailments, the commission had stated.

Now, as Covid-19 cases dip, the government has decided to continue the commission’s work. A meeting in this regard was held in Mumbai on Thursday. Along with senior officials from the home department, retired high court justice J N Patel, former chief secretary Sumit Malik, who is the second member of the commission, V V Palnitkar, secretary of the commission, advocate Ashish Satpute, the commission’s lawyer, and advocate Shishir Hiray, the lawyer representing the state before the commission, participated in the meeting.

“The government is in favour of extending the commission’s work till December. But as the virus still exists, to avoid crowing and ensure that safety norms are followed, a discussion on conducting virtual hearings took place. Also, a demonstration on how to conduct virtual hearings was done. The government has agreed to set up the facilities for conducting hearings of witnesses in Mumbai and Pune. It may start from August 2, depending on the Covid situation then. An official order in this regard has not been issued yet,” Palnitkar told The Indian Express.

“So far 29 witnesses have deposed before the commission, of whom 25 have already been examined,” said advocate Ashish Satpute.

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