Pulling up the Maharashtra police for briefing the press on the arrest of five rights activists and lawyers in connection with a Pune meeting on the eve of the January 1 violence at Bhima Koregaon, the Bombay High Court Monday questioned investigation agencies for holding a press conference when the matter is sub judice and said no further briefing should be held.
On August 29, the Supreme Court, while observing that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy” and “if it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst”, issued notice to the Maharashtra government. The bench directed that the five activists — Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — arrested by Pune police be placed under house arrest until the matter is heard next on September 6.
But two days later, on August 31, Maharashtra Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Parambir Singh held a press conference and released details of letters police claimed to have seized from five activists arrested earlier — Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut — in connection with the same incident.
The letters, police claimed, mentioned plans to allegedly purchase grenade launchers and ammunition worth Rs 8 crore for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Police claimed that the communications, which included “thousands” of letters, were found in hard disks seized from the home of Wilson in Delhi. Police also claimed that they required custody of the activists to confront them with the letters.
Singh addressed the press conference with Shivaji Bodkhe, Joint Commissioner of Police, Pune and the investigating officer, Shivaji Pawar.
On Monday, while hearing a petition by Satish Gaikwad, a rights activist and an alleged victim of the Bhima Koregaon violence, Justice Mridula J Bhatkar said, “Why are investigating agencies holding a press conference when the matter is sub judice and under investigation?”.
Justice Bhatkar told government pleader Deepak Thakre to inform the investigating agency not to hold any further press conference in the matter. It has been listed for hearing on September 7 — the day after the Supreme Court hearing.
In his petition filed through lawyer Nitin Satpute, Gaikwad sought transfer of the investigation from the Pune police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The petition stated “it is unfortunate Pune city police investigating the crime… at Vishrambaugh police station is politically motivated and not working fairly and justly but with a malafide intention best known to them and arresting intellectual persons of the society, which are social rights activist, advocates, human rights activists, poets, writers and other respectable persons of the society”.
The petition stated that “surprisingly the Pune city police have come up with a new concocted story that the said incident of Bhima Koregaon has been instigated by the Elgaar Parishad organised at Shaniwarwada, Pune”.