Dalit scholar and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde’s fortunes swung from disappointment to despair to relief in a matter of 24 hours after a court in Pune first rejected his application for anticipatory bail and, after Teltumbde was picked up by police, declared his arrest illegal.
Teltumbde was released Saturday evening after the completion of formalities. In the afternoon, the court said that the Supreme Court would be informed about his illegal arrest. The renowned academic, who teaches at the Goa Institute of Management, was arrested before dawn at Mumbai airport after the court turned down his anticipatory bail plea earlier on Friday evening.
“What has happened (arrest by Pune Police) is highly embarrassing for a person of international stature like me. I claim that there are very few people in the country with a profile like me,” Teltumbde said after he was released. He rubbished the Pune Police charges against him: “These are all concocted charges based on completely fabricated evidence,” he said. Teltumbde predicted that allegations about his visit to Paris for a conference at the behest of a banned Maoist outfit, would “boomerang”.
Teltumbde’s brother-in-law and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar was among those present in the courtroom during the arguments over his arrest. Teltumbde is among 22 people named as accused in the Elgaar Parishad case for alleged CPI(Maoist) links. On January 14, while rejecting his plea to quash the Pune Police FIR against him, the Supreme Court had granted him protection from arrest for four weeks, so that he could seek bail from the trial court. Teltumbde had accordingly filed the plea for anticipatory bail on January 18.
The court denied him relief on Friday, saying the investigating officer had collected sufficient material to show his involvement in the commission of the alleged offence. The Pune Police had moved swiftly, swooping on Teltumbde at 4 am after he landed in Mumbai from Kerala. He was brought to Pune and produced before Additional Sessions Judge Kishor Vadane.
What SC said on January 14
On January 14, the Supreme Court had said that the “investigation (against Teltumbde) is getting bigger and bigger”, and it was not inclined to quash the FIR. However, the court said: “...Counsel for the petitioner submits that interim protection against arrest granted by the High Court on 15th October, 2018... remained in force until... 18th January, 2019. We extend the said interim protection for a period of four weeks from today within which the petitioner may seek regular/pre-arrest bail from the Competent Authority...
Lawyers for Teltumbde submitted that the police action constituted contempt of the Supreme Court since the four-week period for which he was granted protection from arrest was not over.
“What was intended by the Supreme Court in its order was very clear, that the protection will remain for four weeks, till February 11. A right which has been granted by the SC cannot be set aside by this court. An order by this court rejecting the anticipatory bail does not imply that Teltumbde has lost the umbrella of protection given by the apex court. I will go a step further and say that entire proceeding before this court for the police custody remand is illegal. Everyone who deals with the custody of Teltumbde before February 11 will stand in contempt of the apex court. My prayer is the SC should be intimated about that this arrest has taken place in contempt of its order, and Teltumbde should be released forthwith,” defence lawyer Rohan Nahar argued.
Prosecution lawyer Ujjwala Pawar argued that the four-week protection was to enable Teltumbde to seek remedy from the local court. That protection had been “extinguished” the day Teltumbde had moved the Pune court seeking anticipatory bail, she argued.
“The order passed by the SC is in the form of permitting the accused to move before the competent authority. Therefore, SC did not stay the order of the present court in anticipation with the liberty to move the present accused to High Court or SC… It is incorrect to state that State of Maharashtra and investigating officer have willfully disobeyed the orders of SC while arresting Teltumbde… Investigation officer has not committed the contempt of court. Once the present petitioner approached the court of the competent jurisdiction within the period stipulated by SC, the protection granted by SC gets extinguished. The matter would thereafter be governed by whatever orders the competent court passes in regard to the subject matter,” Pawar submitted.
The court had rejected Teltumbde’s application for anticipatory bail and therefore, “the investigating authority have every legal right to arrest the accused.” The court, however, ordered that Teltumbde’s arrest was against the impugned SC order. It described the arrest as illegal, and said that it amounted to contempt of the order of the SC.
Teltumbde’s wife Rama Teltumbde, who was present in court, said, “Anand had gone to Kochi for a lecture on Friday. He came to Mumbai by flight and around 1.30 am he called me saying police has intercepted him… We are glad that court has ruled in our favour.”