The Maharashtra Police on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the five activists arrested on August 28 were involved in planning large-scale violence. The claim was made in a counter-affidavit filed in response to a notice issued by the court the day after the arrests. The five activists – Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao – are currently under house arrest.
In its affidavit, the police claimed that the activists were in the process of fomenting large-scale violence and destruction of property, which would have resulted in chaos.
The police said this was part of the agenda of the banned outfit Communist Party of India (Maoist). The five were arrested not because of their dissent against the government but because of evidence that they were active members of the Maoist outfit, the police added.
During a hearing on August 29, the Supreme Court had observed that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy”.
The material found on computers, pendrives and memory cards of the activists clearly showed their active membership of the CPI (Maoist), and indicated a design to commit criminal offences with potential to destabilise the society, the police said in the affidavit affirmed by Assistant Commissioner of Police (Swargate Division) Shivaji Panditrao Pawar.
“The material gathered from others based upon which the five accused persons were arrested, clearly show that they were involved in selecting and encouraging cadres to go underground in ‘struggle area’, mobilising and distributing money, facilitating selection and purchase of arms, deciding the rates of such arms and suggesting the routes and ways of smuggling such arms into India for its onward distribution amongst the cadres,” the affidavit reads.
Police said the arrested activists along with an “absconding underground accused” had arranged public meetings under the banner of Elgaar Parishad. Elgaar is a corrupted version of “Yalgaar” which means “the attack”, the police claimed.
Countering the petitioner’s argument that the arrested activists are respected human rights activists, the police referred to a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Vernon Gonsalves in which he was convicted of involvement in Maoist activists.
Gonsalves was arrested in 2007 and charged in 20 cases. In 2013, he was acquitted in 17 of the cases but not before spending six years in jail.
House arrest of the activists would mean they can ensure destruction of evidence elsewhere and can alert other potential accused, the affidavit reads. The police requested that they be allowed to take the accused into their custody.
Plea challenged ‘arbitrary’ arrests
Academics Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain and Satish Deshpande, among others, had filed the petition challenging the arrests. They had alleged that the arrests were arbitrary and were made without evidence. The plea sought an independent inquiry into the arrests. The Supreme Court stayed the transit remands for those arrested to be taken to Pune, and instead asked them to be put under house arrest till the next hearing on September 6.
The arrests came hours after the Pune police raided the homes of 10 human rights activists in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Delhi, Faridabad and Goa. Those arrested were among the 10.
The Maharashtra Police have earlier claimed that the activists were involved in an “Elgar Parishad” event in Pune on December 31, which was followed by caste violence in the nearby village of Bhima Koregaon the next day. The police have said the activists’ speeches at the event were meant to incite hatred. They have also claimed to have seized thousands of letters exchanged among “underground” and “overground” Maoists.