A sessions court in the city of Pune in Maharashtra on Friday transferred the Elgar Parishad case to a special National Investigation Agency court in Mumbai, PTI reported. Additional Sessions Judge SR Navander passed the order after the state government submitted it had no objection to the investigation agency’s plea for a transfer.
The Centre had taken away the case from Pune Police last month, and handed it over to the investigation body. This initially upset the Maharashtra government, which criticised the Narendra Modi government. On February 7, the state opposed the agency’s application. 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 state government’s U-turn came a day after state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh claimed that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray overruled him. Thackeray is Shiv Sena chief, while Deshmukh is from the Nationalist Congress Party. “The chief minister has the powers,” said the home minister. “He overruled my proposal and granted consent to NIA to take over the probe.” Deshmukh said Thackeray should have asked the Centre to reconsider its decision.
Earlier on Friday, Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar said the Centre’s decision to hand over the inquiry to the National Investigation Agency was wrong. He also criticised the state government’s decision to back the move.
Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.
The investigating agency named 11 of the 23 accused in the FIR, including activists 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.
Earlier in the day, the Bombay High Court refused to grant anticipatory bail to Navlakha and Teltumbde, but gave them four weeks to approach the Supreme Court.
Corrections and clarifications: Two separate inquiries into the Bhima Koregaon violence are being conducted. Only the Elgar Parishad investigation has been handed over the National Investigation Agency. The article has been edited to make the distinction clear.