The Maharashtra government on Tuesday granted the seventh and ‘final’ extension to the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry till December 31 this year.
The commission, which is probing the reasons behind the violence that broke out in Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 2018, has been asked to submit its report to the government by that date.
“Hearings of the commission were postponed earlier… but the pandemic is still here. The places where the commission had been conducting its hearings in Mumbai and Pune are small and congested. Not only our staffers, but also some of the lawyers and witnesses appearing before the commission are of advanced age and are suffering from various ailments. So, we had submitted a letter to the government on July 7, seeking a bigger place for the hearings, where it will be possible to maintain social distancing and take necessary precautions, in view of Covid-19. We had suggested the auditorium of Sahyadri Guest House in Mumbai for this purpose. A formal decision regarding the venue… is pending. So, we have not yet scheduled the next date of hearings,” said V V Palnitkar, secretary of the Commission of Inquiry.
“We have written again to the government… that considering the current Covid-19 situation, either the dates should be postponed or proper arrangements like a spacious place for conducting the hearings, safe travel and residence facilities for staffers should be made,” said Palnitkar.
The two-member commission, headed by retired High Court Justice J N Patel, was constituted by the then Devendra Fadnavis-led state government on February 9, 2018, to inquire into the “exact sequence” of events that led to violence on the 200th anniversary of Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
The Commission was initially given four months to submit its report, but its tenure had to be repeatedly extended to allow it to complete its work. So far, it has received three extensions of four months each, one extension of three months, one of six months, and a sixth extension of two months from February 8, 2020 to April 8, 2020.
Hearings of senior officers as well as NCP chief Sharad Pawar were scheduled before the commission between March 30 and April 4. But due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the commission had postponed the hearings till further notice.
Meanwhile, the period of extension granted to the commission by the government expired on April 8. The commission had then sought further extension of at least six months, saying that it intended to examine nearly 40 to 50 more witnesses, including police and revenue officers as well as some prominent political leaders.
“So far, 29 witnesses have deposed before the commission… examination of 25 has concluded,” said Ashish Satpute, lawyer for the commission.
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