The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned till September 12 the hearing of a petition challenging the arrests of five activists by the Maharashtra Police as part of the Bhima Koregaon investigation. The court also extended the house arrest of the five activists till Wednesday. The petition was filed by five eminent citizens on August 29, a day after the arrests were made.

On Thursday, the matter was heard by a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud. “I saw the assistant police commissioner, Pune, insinuating that SC [Supreme Court] should not have intervened at this stage,” Justice DY Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. “He has no business telling that.”

Chandrachud said he had watched the “press conference carefully”. “There was an attempt to throw an aspersion and say SC should not have taken up this matter,” he said, adding that the matter has been taken “very seriously” by the bench. Mehta offered an apology on behalf of the Maharashtra government.

However, Mehta opposed the petition challenging the arrest of the activists, saying “third parties have no right to file petition”, according to Live Law. “Rushing to Supreme Court in such matters will create a bad precedent,” Bar & Bench quoted him as saying. “Law should take its course,” he said.

Mehta cited a 2006 Supreme Court judgement barring a similar intervention by people unconnected to the criminal case. He said the cases against the activists are serious and they were arrested on the basis of evidence found by the police.

Meanwhile, senior lawyer Harish Salve appeared for Tushar Damgude, the complainant in the case against the activists. Damgude has filed an intervention application seeking to be made a respondent in the case.

Lawyers representing the petitioners said that the arrested activists could move the intervening petition instead. The chief justice put up this question to be heard on Wednesday.

Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the petitioners, called for an independent inquiry by a Special Investigation Team appointed by the court.

On August 28, the Pune Police raided the homes of 10 human rights activists across the country and arrested five of them – Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj.

The following day, the Supreme Court ordered that they be placed under house arrest until September 6. “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy, if you don’t allow safety valve pressure cooker will burst,” the court had said.

The court passed the order after historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpandey and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala filed a petition seeking the immediate release of the activists and an independent investigation into the allegedly arbitrary arrests.

State defends the arrests

The state police on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the five activists were 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 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.

The police accused the activists of arranging public meetings under the banner of Elgaar Parishad with the help of an “absconding underground accused”. Elgaar is a corrupted version of “Yalgaar” which means “the attack”, the police claimed.

The Maharashtra Police had earlier claimed that the activists were involved in the “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.