SC disappointed in activists’ arrest case

The Supreme Court’s refusal to order a fair and impartial investigation into the charges made by the Maharashtra police against five eminent intellectuals and human rights activists who were arrested in August is disappointing. The majority opinion of a three-judge bench headed by the just-retired chief justice Dipak Misra rejected the demand for a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the charges and ruled that the Maharashtra police can continue the investigation. This is unfortunate because the conduct of the state police in the case has not been above board and there are convincing grounds to show that the charges are not genuine. The arrests were made in a case that started as an investigation into caste violence in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune on January 1. The activists in different parts of the country were charged with a conspiracy against the State and even a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

When the issue was first raised in the court after the arrests, the court seemed to look at the police action with suspicion and ordered that the activists be kept under house arrest and not in custody. The court extended the house arrests of the five but told them to pursue relief in lower courts. While the majority judgement did not give the activists any substantial relief, the minority view of Justice DY Chandrachud was remarkable for its appreciation of the issues involved in the case, like the threat to individual freedom from the State, the lawless conduct of the police and the need for the judiciary to support the victim in such situations. The judge favoured an SIT probe because he felt that the Maharashtra police could not be trusted to investigate the case in a fair manner. He has made scathing criticism of the approach of the police and its actions in the case. He also cited a number of instances of lapses of the police and its unprofessional and unacceptable conduct which would “subvert the fairness of the investigation”.

These are strong words of indictment and show a clear lack of faith in the police to provide justice to the victims. When there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the police framed the activists in these cases, how can it be trusted to hold a fair and impartial investigation? It is unfortunate that the majority in the bench could not see this. The Supreme Court has always upheld the right to dissent and protected those who were persecuted for their right. It did not live up to that record in this case. The Delhi high court, though, picked up the baton on Monday and freed one of the five, Gautam Navlakha, from the house arrest. That is reason for hope.

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SC disappointed in activists’ arrest case

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