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Arrest of activists: Will take call on SIT after looking at police evidence, says Supreme Court

The court extended the house arrest of the five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — till September 19, when it will hear the matter again.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: September 18, 2018 2:55:13 am
Elgaar parishad probe, Supreme Court to examine 'material' against activists, extends their house arrest till Sept 19 Five activists — P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — were arrested last month for their alleged Maoist link.

THE SUPREME Court on Monday said it would look into the material available with the Maharashtra Police against the five activists arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case, before taking any decision on the plea filed by Romila Thapar and others for appointing a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter.

“As far as liberty is concerned, we are very serious… so we protected you… for the rest, we will have to look into the material,” said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, heading a three-judge bench hearing the matter.

The bench, which includes Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, was responding to senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s submission that the court should appoint an SIT if the petitioners were able to “create a doubt” regarding the claims of the investigative agency.

“That doubt will have to come from the inquiry… Whenever the court appointed SIT, it was for some grievous matter… Here, we will see if a case is made out under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC),” said the CJI. “Once we see the material, if we find, then they should go under CrPC,” the court said, adding that it may even quash the case if no material is found, as claimed by the petitioners.

The Centre, meanwhile, opposed the petition, saying Naxalism was a “serious problem” which wasn’t restricted to Maharashtra, and entertaining the petition would set a “dangerous precedent”.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra government, said the police had enough evidence to prove that the activists had committed “serious offences”. “We had doubts they will question the authenticity… So we recorded all the procedure from the moment we knocked at their doors,” he said. “They are invoking the jurisdiction of this court merely based on the assumption that this is dissent,” he said.

Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners, said the contentions raised by them in the apex court were not very different from what the activists had raised before the lower courts.

Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre, objected to the petitioners rushing to the Supreme Court, without exhausting the remedy in the lower courts. He said they had not shown anything to establish that the lower courts would not look into the matter. “If the court entertains such petitions, it will be dangerous for the investigation,” he said.

Singh sought to stress that he was not questioning the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but was questioning the procedure followed by the petitioners. “The concerned judicial officer has to see… Not that every matter will come to Supreme Court,” he said.

The CJI said the court felt that the petitioners should first exhaust their remedies at the lower level.

Singhvi said the court should come to a conclusion only after hearing the petitioners. He then went on to read the two FIRs registered in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence. He said claims that the arrests were linked to a Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi were not there in the FIRs but only in TV reports, and were meant “to prejudice the debate”.

The bench wondered if it wouldn’t be more appropriate for the petitioners to approach the high court with a petition under Article 226. When pointed out that proceedings were there in multiple high courts, the CJI said, “we will transfer them all to one high court”.

Continuing his arguments. Singhvi said the “evidence” against the activists “was fabricated”. The claims that one Comrade Prakash had written to the five activists from inside jail was also “fabricated”, he said.

The court extended the house arrest of the five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — till September 19, when it will hear the matter again.

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