The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up Maharashtra Police for not doing enough to arrest Milind Ekbote, accused in last month’s violence at Bhima Koregaon, near Pune, and sought a status report from the investigating officer. “Do your job. Arrest him, conduct investigations and then tell us,” a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Mohan M Shantanagoudar told the state’s counsel. Posting the matter to March, the bench also said its interim order — that in the event of arrest he should be released on bail on furnishing a bond of Rs 1 lakh — will continue until then.
The bench rejected the state’s contention that Ekbote was not cooperating and was absconding for a long time. “In spite of the order and his availability, you did not make a single attempt to arrest him…should we (the court) hold the investigation now,” the bench asked. The state’s counsel submitted that one section of the people, aggrieved by actions of the accused, wanted him arrested. He added that Ekbote’s custodial interrogation was necessary, as the police had to recover pamphlets etc, from him.
The bench replied that it had not asked the police not to arrest him. “What stops you from arresting him? Call him, arrest him. That’s the end of it… Why do you think you can recover anything only if he is in custody?… You conduct the investigation with his cooperation and tell us where he is not cooperating…we thought it would have been over by now. Arrest him and tell the world.” Justice Joseph added recording of the arrest is the “most important thing as far as this person is concerned. Then he will be under your surveillance.”
To the counsel’s submission “why was he absconding so far,” Justice Joseph replied, “Because he knows who you are. That’s it.” Appearing for Ekbote, senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi said the case had some religious and social overtones. A Pune court had issued an arrest warrant against Ekbote for his role in allegedly inciting violence on January 1, the day members of Dalit community organised an event to commemorate the bicentenary of Bhima Koregaon battle.
A case was registered against Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide — chiefs of the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan, respectively — for allegedly inciting violence that left a man dead on January 1. Subsequent protests by Dalit activists had disrupted normal life in Mumbai and several other parts of Maharashtra. On February 2, The Bombay High Court rejected Ekbote’s anticipatory bail plea. Before that, a Pune court had also rejected a similar plea.