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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Centre vs Maharashtra as Elgar Parishad probe is handed over to NIA

Home Ministry direction came a day after Sena-led govt reviewed chargesheet against activists named in case.

Written by Mohamed Thaver , Deeptiman Tiwary | Mumbai, New Delhi | Updated: January 25, 2020 7:21:41 am
Elgaar Parishad case, Elgaar Parishad, Elgaar Parishad case handed over to NIA, Elgaar Parishad case NIA, Bhima Koregaon, battle of Bhima Koregaon, Bhima Koregaon violence, violence at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra government, India news, Indian Express The Elgar Parishad meeting was held on Dec 31, 2017.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs Friday handed over the investigation of the Elgar Parishad case to the National Investigation Agency, triggering a row with Maharashtra’s Sena-NCP-Congress government, which a day earlier had held a meeting to review the chargesheet filed against the accused in the case.

EXPLAINED | A quick recap of Elgaar Parishad case that NIA has now taken over

Nine rights activists and lawyers had been arrested by the Maharashtra police in 2018 for allegedly inciting people at a meeting of the Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017. Police claimed the activists and lawyers incited people and this led to caste violence in Bhima Koregaon the next day.

The state government had given indications that the case could be handed over to a Special Investigation Team if the Pune Police failed to substantiate the charges. NCP president Sharad Pawar had also written a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that the previous BJP government had conspired to frame the accused and a review of the case was necessary because of the gross abuse of power by the state and police.

The nine arrested in the case are Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.

Additional Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar confirmed that a communication regarding the transfer of the probe had been received from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

A senior official of the Maharashtra Home Department told The Indian Express: “The Maharashtra DGP received a notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that the case has been handed over to the NIA.”

The Centre’s decision is likely to further accentuate the debate over federalism and whether the NIA Act, which allows the agency to suo motu take over a scheduled offence case in any state, violates the federal structure of the Constitution. The Chhattisgarh government had earlier this month challenged the constitutionality of the NIA Act in the Supreme Court.

The move took the state government by surprise. “Law and order is a state subject and without informing the Maharashtra government at all, the Home Ministry has given the case to NIA. This is unconstitutional and wrong. We were trying to reach to the root of why the case was registered when they took it away. They should not have interfered,” Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh told The Indian Express,

It was in the Elgar Parishad case that Pune Police used the ‘Urban Naxal’ term. Police said they had found a letter from one of the arrested accused, Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson, which allegedly pointed to a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

At the review meeting held by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Deshmukh Thursday morning, the then Additional Commissioner of Pune Police, Shivaji Bodake, and the investigating officer, ACP Shivaji Pawar, elaborated on the evidence they had in the case. Sources said it was pointed out to police that the so-called letter that was sent via email did not appear to have two time stamps, both of the sender and receiver, and did not appear to be authentic.

Sources in the security establishment in Delhi said intelligence agencies recently provided inputs to the Union Home Ministry that some activists associated with Left organisations were offering financial assistance to those organising protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “It was after this that Delhi got serious about taking over the Elgar Parishad case,” a security establishment officer said.

Currently, a two-member commission, comprising retired Calcutta High Court Chief Justice J N Patel and former Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick, set up in February 2018 by the previous BJP government, is also probing the sequence of events leading to the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018. The commission’s term expires February 8. State government officials said there was no clarity on how Friday’s decision would impact the review meeting or the functioning of the commission.

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar accused the Centre of trying to scuttle the probe. “They have done this to ensure that the truth does not come out,” he said.

The BJP countered the allegations stating that leaders of the coalition government were commenting on the case from the day they took charge. “The remarks being made raise the suspicion that they are trying to protect the Naxals who are accused in the case. The NIA has taken over the case to ensure transparent investigation,” said senior BJP leader and former Maharashtra minister Vinod Tawde. “Why are they worried? NIA is not an institution belonging to the BJP or Prime Minister Modi. It is the apex investigative authority in the country,” he said.

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