The Supreme Court on Thursday extended the house arrest of the five activists, who were arrested by Pune police in connection with a meeting on the eve of the January 1 violence at Bhima Koregaon, till September 12.
During today’s hearing, a Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra took umbrage over the statements made by the Assistant Commissioner of Police of Pune on the matter, saying he was casting aspersions on the court.
Justice D Y Chandrachud hit out at the Maharashtra Police for holding a press conference and told the government to direct its police to be more responsible when the matter is in court. “You must ask your police officials to be more responsible. The matter is before us and we don’t want to hear from police officials that the Supreme Court is wrong,” the bench told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for Maharashtra government.
The bench, however, refused to pass any order asking police not to share information with the media.
ASG Tushar Mehta, on the other hand, said the court will realise the harm the arrested could have caused if it examined the material seized by Pune police. He added that keeping the activists under house arrest may hamper the investigation in the case.
The government also dismissed reports that the activists were held for dissent and told the court that petitioners Romila Thapar and others are strangers to the case.
To this, the top court sought a response from Thapar and others if a third-party can intervene in a criminal case.
Last month, Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested for their alleged involvement in organising Elgaar Parishad in Pune this January. Elgaar Parishad is an event to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon, which Dalit groups observe as a victory over the forces of the upper caste Peshwas. The raids were carried out in Delhi, Faridabad, Goa, Mumbai, Ranchi and Hyderabad.
In a notice to the Maharashtra government, the apex court had earlier directed that the five rights activists be placed under house arrest till the next hearing. The court observed that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy… if it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst”.
Police had earlier arrested Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Antachi Chalwal, Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut for allegedly sourcing funds from banned Maoist groups to help in organising Elgaar Parishad. It also accused them of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi-like manner”.
Responding to the top court’s notice on Wednesday, the Maharashtra government said there was “cogent evidence” to show that the arrested persons were “active members” of the banned CPI (Maoist) who “were in the process of creating large-scale violence, destruction of property resulting in chaos”.
Stating that the arrest of five activists and lawyers was not about curbing dissent or “difference in ideology”, Pune Assistant Commissioner of Police Shivaji Panditrao, in an affidavit, said the activists were arrested on the basis of material recovered during a probe carried out against certain others — in June.