State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Thursday said all top Pune police officials connected to the Elgaar Parishad case will be questioned. “We will question all top Pune police officials in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, to find the truth behind registering the case against activists…,” Deshmukh told The Indian Express when asked about the repeated criticism of Pune police by NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
Deshmukh said the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will find out whether there was any pressure from the top to register the case against prominent activists and arrest them. “In fact, we have already spoken to a couple of Pune police officials who were involved with the case then to find out whether they were under pressure from the top…,” he said.
Asked what the officials said, Deshmukh said, “I will reveal it at an appropriate time.”
Deshmukh said former Pune police commissioner Rashmi Shukla, during whose tenure the case was registered, current Police Commissioner K Venkatesham, the then Joint Commissioner of Police Ravindra Kadam and ACP Shivaji Pawar, who had filed two chargesheets in the case, will all be questioned.
“All former and current Pune police officials are under the scanner,” said Deshmukh, adding the Home departmnt has started reviewing the cases filed by Pune police, following a meeting he held with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar in January.
In Mumbai on Tuesday, Sharad Pawar, while reiterating his demand for an immediate inquiry into the handling of the probe by Pune police officers, had said, “The way Pune police and certain senior officers conducted themselves… and their entire outlook towards the Elgaar Parishad case, is worrying and a blot on the prestige of Maharashtra police.”
Deshmukh also said the government was seeking expert opinion about setting up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case. “In next two three days, we expect to get an expert view, after which we will set up the SIT,” he said.
According to Pune City Police, the Elgaar Parishad, an evening conclave held in Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017, contributed to the violence that broke out in Koregaon Bhima the next day, January 1, 2018. According to Pune police, the conclave was the result of long-term planning and funding by Naxal outfit CPI-Maoist. Of the 23 accused named in the case, nine were arrested in 2018 and have been lodged in Yerawada Jail since then. The arrested accused, most of them prominent human rights activists, have been charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Investigated by Pune City Police for over one-and-a-half years, the case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency in January, days after Pawar and Deshmukh himself had raised questions about the investigation.
Meanwhile, an official said the state Home department has also directed the Pune police to reveal the source of a letter allegedly seized from arrested activist Rona Wilson. Pune police had submitted the letter before court as a crucial piece of evidence for arresting the activists.
Rashmi Shukla, who is now additional DGP and commissioner, State Intelligence Department, refused to respond to Pawar’s comments.
Shukla has distanced herself from the case and told the state Home minister that she was on leave during the period the case was registered and investigated, said sources. “She told us that her husband was suffering from a serious ailment and was therefore on leave most of the time. The case was handled by Ravindra Kadam, who was the joint commissioner of Pune police,” said a source.
Kadam had told The Indian Express on Wednesday that Pune Police had enough documents and evidence to book the accused. Pune Police Commissioner K Venkatesham refused to comment on the case.
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