Holding on to a motivated case

Holding on to a motivated case

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval being greeted by NIA Director General Yogesh Chander Modi during the National Investigation Agency(NIA)'s national conference of Chiefs of Anti-Terrorism Squad/ Special Task Force, in New Delhi, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (PTI Photo)

The central government’s decision to transfer the Bhima-Koregaon case from the Maharashtra police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is not only an act of interference with the powers of the state government but also a move to influence the course of justice through motivated investigation. There are several questionable aspects to the Union Home Ministry’s decision. It was taken a day after the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government announced that the controversial investigation by the Pune police under the previous BJP government would be reviewed. The handing over of the case to the NIA is obviously intended to prevent a review which might expose the earlier investigation as prejudiced and faulty, as it has been widely seen. The case related to some alleged provocative speeches on December 31, 2017 at the Elgar Parishad, an annual occasion to commemorate a victory of Dalits over the Peshwa’s army 200 years ago. The police found in the event and the violence that followed the next day a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the government, and even an assassination plot against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and booked human rights activists, academics and lawyers under stringent provisions of the law. 

The arrests and ill-treatment of well-known activists had led to widespread protests. The case was viewed as an attempt by the BJP government to harass the activists to protect some right-wing leaders who had allegedly provoked the riots. The charges have been seen as manipulated and lacking in evidence. It is unfortunate that the NIA, which was established to investigate terrorism, is being used for political purposes. When the case was instituted, the state government had opposed a Supreme Court-monitored investigation. The Pune police investigation was considered adequate. The Home Ministry had the same view. The Supreme Court had also refused to intervene in the investigation. But after two years, the Centre has suddenly changed its view and the NIA has been brought in. 

The Centre’s power to direct the NIA to investigate cases or to take over ongoing investigations has been challenged in the Supreme Court in a suit filed by the Chhattisgarh government. Even if the power to issue suo moto directions to the agency is accepted, the transfer of the case in the existing circumstances can only be deemed arbitrary and motivated. The government’s action is a violation of federal principles. Law and order is a state subject and the Centre’s decision amounts to an encroachment into the state’s domain of powers. The use of the NIA for political ends will lower the agency’s credibility, as it has happened in the case of other agencies like the CBI and the ED.

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