SC quizzes Maharashtra govt on arrest of activists

The Supreme Court maintained individuals' liberty cannot be stifled on the basis of conjectures. Reuters file photo

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said our institutions must be robust enough to accommodate dissent.

It maintained individuals' liberty cannot be stifled on the basis of conjectures.

Hearing a plea against the arrest of prominent activists in the case related to the Bhima-Koregaon violence in December 2017, the top court put a distinction between some individuals and institutions holding dissenting views and indulging in activities to subvert law and order and create chaos in the society.

The Maharashtra government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, sought to take the court through the materials including some letters written by 'Comrade Prakash', connected to a banned outfit, CPI (Maoist). He also sought to show the photographs recovered showing arrested activists with the members of the banned organisation.

Justice D Y Chandrachud, sitting in the bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said, “We may not like it but we must also accept there could be dissent. Let us make a clear-cut distinction between an opposition and attempts to create a disturbance, overthrow government etc. Your documents also name universities, prominent social science institute. Are they all involved?”

“As a nation, we should all be concerned,” Mehta said, requesting the court go through all the materials.

“Dissent is fine but it is also important who is saying it. If the leader of a banned outfit says it, this will have a different connotation,” he said.

He also pointed out CPI (Maoist) was banned in 2009.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the complainant, submitted what appeared simple today may turn out to be serious tomorrow. "There must be a distinction between a dissenting view and a criminal act. One may say out of anger that I will burn the Constitution because it has proved to be unfair to a certain class. But it is equally important to see who is saying it, what are you saying and where are you saying it,” Salve said.

Justice Chandrachud, however, shot back, “Our institutions should be robust enough to accommodate opposition to the system or even to this court. We can't stifle liberties on the altar of conjectures. We'll look at this case with the hawk's eyes.”

During the hearing, the bench, also comprising Justice A M Khanwilkar, asked the Maharashtra government, “Why did you have to carry two clerks from Pune Municipal Corporation to Maharashtra Sadan here to act as 'panch' witnesses to the arrest and raid? The allegation is they are stock witnesses.”

Mehta, however, denied they were stock witness.

Earlier, senior advocates Abhishek M Singhvi, Anand Grover, Ashwini Kumar and Rajeev Dhavan, representing historian Romila Thapar and others, contended the arrests were made on the basis of “foisted and cooked up evidence”.

The court would resume hearing arguments on Thursday. It extended the period of their house arrest till then.

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, in connection with an FIR lodged there following an event, 'Elgaar Parishad' (conclave), held on December 31 last year that had triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon village.

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SC quizzes Maharashtra govt on arrest of activists

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