Sunday, September 30, 2018

SC allows Pune police to continue activists’ probe


PUNE: Refusing to interfere with the investigation into the arrest of five activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon incident by the Pune police, the Supreme Court of India allowed the process to continue, although it provided a way out for the activists by extending their house arrest by four more weeks, allowing them to move bail applications in this time.

In a 2:1 majority verdict, the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra dismissed the petition filed by historian Romila Thapar and four others seeking the release of Gautam Navalakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves and also the appointment of a Special Investigation Team. The top court held that the accused persons do not have a say “to choose as to which Investigating Agency must investigate the offence committed by them”.

In a pan-India crackdown on August 28, the activists were arrested for suspected Maoist links. The raids were a part of a probe into a conclave, Elgar Parishad , held in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on December 31, 2017 that allegedly triggered violence the following day.

But dissenting with the two judges, Justice DY Chandrachud held that there was a need to constitute a SIT and hand over investigation to it. “Circumstances have been drawn to our notice to cast a cloud on whether the Maharashtra police has in the present case acted as fair and impartial investigating agency. Sufficient material has been placed before the Court bearing on the need to have an independent investigation,” he added.

The majority judgment said the police is free to go ahead with investigations and “it is not a case of arrest because of mere dissenting views expressed or difference in the political ideology of the named accused, but concerning their link with the members of the banned organisation and its activities”.

Rebutting the argument of the petitioners that there is no evidence against the five activists, Justice AM Khanwilkar, writing the judgment for himself and the Chief Justice, held that there is “no mala fide exercise of power the he police”.

Justice Khanwilkar in the judgment also held, “This is not the stage where the efficacy of the material or sufficiency thereof can be evaluated nor it is possible to enquire into whether the same is genuine or fabricated.” The judges also refused to comment on the evidence collected by the police as it could prejudice the case.

“The option to proceed in the case with more arrests is open before us,” said Pune police commissioner K Venkatesham after the SC ruling. “This judgment is the recognition of professional work done by the investigating team.”

Justice Chandrachud came down heavily on the police for holding media briefings in the case while the matter was in courts. He said, “In the present case, police briefings to the media have become a source of manipulating public opinion by besmirching the reputations of individuals involved in the process of investigation. What follows is unfortunately a trial by the media. That the police should lend themselves to this process is a matter of grave concern.”

Making a case for an independent probe, Justice Chandrachud highlighted the recent case of Nambi Narayanan, who was framed by Kerala police in the ISRO sying case. He said a CBI probe in the case exonerated Nambi Narayan and he was awarded him 50 lakh as compensation for wrongful prosecution.

The petitioners said their stand had been “vindicated” by the “dissenting verdict” delivered by Justice Chandrachud. Addressing the media in New Delhi, historian Thapar said due to the top court’s judgment the liberty and dignity of the human rights activists had not been “jeopardised” for the time being.

Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover, who represented the petitioners, said: “Justice Chandrachud has categorically held that liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjecture.”


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