The Maharashtra government on Friday opposed the National Investigation Agency’s application to transfer the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case from a sessions court in Pune to a special NIA court in Mumbai, PTI reported.
“The offence is committed within the local jurisdiction of local court, chargesheet has been filed and draft charges have been also filed and the matter is fixed for framing of charges,” the prosecution said in its response. The sessions court reserved its order for February 14, according to ANI.
This came a day after defence lawyers also opposed the investigating agency’s petition to transfer all court documents and materials seized during inquiries to Mumbai, The Indian Express reported. The lawyers argued that the court in Pune was not competent to hear the NIA application, which should be filed in the Bombay High Court.
Violence had broken out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits the following day.
The investigating agency named 11 of the 23 accused in the FIR, including Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, P Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. Except Teltumbde and Navlakha, the others were arrested by Pune Police in June and August 2018 in connection with the violence. They were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and are still in prison.
At Thursday’s hearing, NIA lawyer Namdev Taralgatti submitted provisions of the NIA Act and sought to move the court records. He argued that the case had been registered again and re-numbered for administrative purposes, and that does not amount to lodging a second FIR. However, defence advocates Rohan Nahar, Siddharth Patil and Shahid Akhtar urged the court to reject the application.
Surendra Gadling said the High Court and Supreme Court, under Section 406 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, were the appropriate bodies to consider applications for transfer of cases outside a sessions division in Maharashtra and Goa. “Not only the [main] chargesheet but supplementary charge sheet has been filed and we are in the middle of framing charges,” said lawyer Siddharth Patil. “This court does not have the power to transfer the case.” In response, the NIA lawyer cited several provisions of the NIA Act, and High Court and Supreme Court judgements on how a case is transferred to the agency.
Last month, the Maharashtra government led by the Shiv Sena, the Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party had criticised the Centre for handing over the probe to the National Investigation Agency. The Pune Police was conducting the inquiries earlier. The state government claimed that it had not been consulted. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Bhima Koregaon was “a symbol of resistance that the government’s NIA stooges can never erase” while NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the Centre handed over the case in haste because “they were afraid that truth will come out”.