SC orders house arrest of activists till September 6

Activists from various organisations stage a protest pertaining to the arrest of five activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon protests, in New Delhi. PTI Photo

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that the five activists arrested by the Maharashtra police for their alleged role in Pune’s Bhima-Koregoan violence of December 31, 2017, be kept under house arrest as an interim measure.

The top court, however, cautioned the government that dissent is the safety valve of democracy which will burst if people’s voice is throttled.

Holding an urgent hearing on a plea made by historian Romila Thapar against the “sweeping round of arrests”, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notices to the Centre and the Maharashtra government, seeking their response by September 5.

After it was pointed out that accused human rights activist Gautam Navlakha and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj were already under house arrest, the court did not object to the petitioners’ counsel that the other accused — activists Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves — be also kept “under house arrest at their own homes”.

With this, all the five arrested on Tuesday after multiple raids across the country — after an FIR was registered under various provisions of the IPC, including those related to the offence of promoting enmity between groups and other offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, would not be sent to police or judicial custody.

Arguing on behalf of Romila Thapar and others, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi contended that the government tried to create a chilling effect on the activists, just because it did not agree to them.

The arrests by the Pune Police of professors, lawyers and activists, nine months after the Bhima-Koregaon event organised by Justice P B Sawant and others, were in gross violation of Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution, he said.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government, submitted that the accused have already approached the high court against the arrest. He questioned the maintainability of the petition filed by Romila Thapar, feminist economist Devaki Jain, economist Prabhat Pattnaik, sociologist and Delhi University teacher Satish Deshpande and activist Maja Daruwala.

On this, Singhvi said, “All our liberties would be jeopardised if the court did not intervene.” He said lawyer Bhardwaj and activist Navlakha, who were arrested, have approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Delhi High Court respectively.

Senior advocates Dushyant Dave, Rajeev Dhavan and Indira Jaising supported Singhvi, saying these were random arrests to silence the voice of dissent. “We are next to getting arrested,” Indira Jaising apprehended.

As a Maharashtra government counsel questioned the habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of the two accused before the high court, the bench said, “We would not be bound by nomenclature of writ petitions.”

Justice Chandrachud said, “Their concern is that you are quelling dissent.”

He further said, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow dissent, the safety valve will burst.”

The court extended the term of house arrest of Bhardwaj and Navlakha till the next date of hearing, September 6.

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SC orders house arrest of activists till September 6

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