Koregaon-Bhima case: SC extends house arrest of 5 activists
The Supreme Court refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists on Koregaon-Bhima case by Maharashtra Police in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case and declined to appoint a SIT for probe into their arrest.
The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in a 2:1 verdict, refused the plea seeking the immediate release of the activists.
Justice A M Khanwilkar read out the verdict for himself and the CJI, while Justice D Y Chandrachud said he was unable to agree with view of the two judges. Justice Chandrachud said arrest of the five accused was an attempt by state to muzzle dissent.
The majority verdict said the protection of house arrest shall remain in force for four weeks to enable the accused to seek appropriate legal remedy at appropriate legal forum.
The CJI said arrests were not because of dissent of activists but there was prima facie material to show their link with banned CPI (Maoists) organisation.
Justice Khanwilkar said accused persons cannot choose which investigating agency should probe the case and this was not a case of arrest merely because of difference in political views.
The majority verdict disagreed with the PIL by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking the immediate release of five rights activist, with liberty to the accused to seek remedy in appropriate court. Justice Khanwilkar said the protection of house arrest shall remain in force for four weeks to enable the accused to seek legal remedy.
He refrained from commenting on the case saying it may prejudice case of accused and prosecution. Justice Chandrachud said liberty cherished by the Constitution would have no meaning if persecution of the five activists is allowed without proper investigation. He said the petition was genuine and lashes out at Maharashtra police for press meet, distribution of letters to media.
Cases to continue in different courts
The Chief Justice had initially protected the liberty of the five activists — by placing them under house arrest.
At one point, the Chief Justice had suggested that they (accused) could continue their efforts in the competent lower courts. He even mooted transferring the pending cases against the activists to one court while continuing with their house arrests. But senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Ms. Thapar and four others, had persisted that the apex court should first hear them.
The hearing also saw the Centre step in and voice its apprehensions about the problem of “naxalism” that has gripped the country.
“I [Centre] have come here because the problem of naxalism is not confined to one State, Maharashtra, but affects the entire nation. I have come here considering the overall situation in the country,” Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh submitted.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Maharashtra government, had said the case and arrests was not about the “quelling of dissent.”
“This concerns serious offences. There is material recovered from their laptops, computers, hard disks, etc. We have video-taped all our raids from the moment we knocked on their doors to recovery and seizure. This was done to protect ourselves against future allegations of high-handedness which may be raised against our investigation done in compliance with CrPC,” Mr. Mehta had submitted.
On August 28, the Maharashtra police arrested five activists, claiming that they were active members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and preparing for large scale violence and an “armed rebellion.”
The following day, a petition was filed on behalf of the arrested activists in the Supreme Court seeking an independent probe into the matter.
-PTI |28 September 2018 | New Delhi