The Supreme Court on Monday said it may consider ordering a probe by a special investigation team if it finds anything gravely wrong with the material used as evidence against 10 activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon violence case since June.
The court said it would examine the material collected by the Maharashtra Police, which the government agreed to present at the next hearing on Wednesday, reported ANI. The house arrests of the five activists held on August 28 will continue till then.
“Every criminal investigation is based on allegations and we have to see whether there is some material,” PTI quoted the bench, which comprised Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, as saying.
The activists were arrested as part of the Pune Police’s investigation into the violence during the Bhima Koregaon event in January. The Centre told the court that the petitioners who moved the Supreme Court against the arrests in August had no relation to the case. While one petition was filed by five eminent citizens a day after the arrests in August, an intervention application was also filed on behalf of the five activists arrested in June – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale.
Arguments in court
The Centre and the state government reiterated that the activists had been arrested based on “incriminating documents” recovered from them. The government said the petitioners also have the option of moving high courts or lower courts. However, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the Supreme Court had entertained the case on the grounds of liberty.
Appearing for the five arrested in August, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the first information reports filed regarding the violence in January did not carry the names of the activists.
Singhvi told the court that the Maharashtra government has taken contradictory positions in two FIRs filed on the violence and in the subsequent affidavits before the courts. “In one instance they said Hindutva and upper caste organisations were responsible,” he said. “Later, they changed it to expand the case and drag these activists in the net.”
Misra told Singhvi that the investigation can bring out new evidence and angles and this was not uncommon. However, the lawyer pointed out that the police had brought tutored witnesses from Pune to sign the memorandum of arrest.
During the proceedings, Khanwilkar pointed out that the petitions filed by five eminent persons wanted a special investigation team to look into the circumstances surrounding the arrest and not the whole case itself. When Singhvi said the question of arrest subsumes all other facets, Chandrachud asked the petitioners to amend the prayers.
Singhvi said while the Pune Police have produced letters purportedly written by the activists to Maoist colleagues about a plot to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no First Information Report has been registered regarding this.
“If such a grave plot was in play, why is there no FIR?” he asked. The lawyer said there was a concerted effort to paint all the activists as history-sheeters when the reality was that none of them have a criminal history. Even poetry read out by some activists has been considered seditious, Singhvi added. The extract was a translation from The Good Person of Szchewan, written by Bertolt Brecht.
Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said while the state was ready to show the material evidence, the proceedings should function on the basis of an assumption that the petitioners will not head back to the High Court if the Supreme Court does not accept their prayers.
Earlier, Dipak Misra suggested that the matter may be sent to a High Court with a direction that the house arrest of the activists would continue. But this was dropped after the parties wanted to make arguments on the nature of the evidence. “The court should go through the text and the feel of the evidence,” Singhvi said, adding that the facts in the case would certainly shock the judges’ conscience.
In previous hearings, the Maharashtra Police have defended the arrest on the grounds that the five activists were planning large-scale violence, as part of the agenda of the banned outfit Communist Party of India (Maoist). They had earlier claimed that the activists were involved in an event in Pune that was followed by caste-related violence at the nearby village of Bhima Koregaon on January 1.
The police have said the activists’ speeches at the event were meant to incite hatred and claimed to have seized thousands of letters exchanged among “underground” and “overground” Maoists. Two retired judges who organised the event have said that the arrested activists had nothing to do with the event.