SC hints at setting up SIT to probe activists arrest

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. (pic for representation only)

The Supreme Court on Monday indicated that it may quash the case and set up a special investigation team to probe the crackdown on activists for their alleged role in the Bhima-Koregaon violence last year if it found that the charges were cooked up.

The top court decided to consider the materials gathered by the Maharashtra Police against the five prominent activists on Wednesday and extended their house arrest till then.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud gave the option to the activists to pursue their remedies in the trial court and the high court but finally decided to consider a writ petition filed by historian Romila Thapar and others, challenging the arrest.

“We entertained the petition as liberty is sacrosanct. We feel they should exhaust their remedy (before the trial court or the high court),” the bench initially said.

As senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi insisted for the court to decide on the writ petition against the arrest, the bench said, “We may quash the case, if there is no material. We will look into the materials. If those are cooked up, we will appoint the SIT.”

Prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao, activists Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Ferreira, trade union activist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha were arrested by the Pune Police from their respective homes on August 28.

The arrests were made in connection with an FIR lodged following an event - 'Elgaar Parishad' (conclave) - held on December 31 last year that had triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon village. The activists have remained under house arrest since then.

On Monday, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government, once again raised the issue of locus standi and contended the instant petition has been filed by strangers like Romila and others, while the activists-accused themselves were not before the top court. They have instead approached the courts concerned.

Mehta said, if a politician from the rival party was arrested, his colleagues cannot approach the court, saying the action in a particular case was initiated because of dissent.

Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, representing the Union government, said "Naxalism" was a problem not restricted to one state. He said it would set a dangerous precedent if a petition like this was entertained. The judicial fora below can deal with the matter, Singh said.

During the hearing, senior advocate Anand Grover pointed out that an additional affidavit has been filed by lawyer Surendra Gadling, also arrested in the matter in June, allowing the petitioner, Romila and others, to represent him.

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SC hints at setting up SIT to probe activists arrest

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