‘Activists arrested for Maoist links, not dissent’: SC rules out SIT probe

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New Delhi, September 28: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists, saying there was prima facie material to show that they had links to a banned Maoist group and rejected their argument that they were arrested for their dissenting views.
Rejecting a request to set up a special team to probe the five activists, the court said the accused do not have a say in deciding which agency should investigate them and told Maharashtra Police to go ahead with the probe.
This is not the stage to inquire into whether the charges are genuine or fabricated, said the majority verdict of the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
Lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, Telugu poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested on August 28 in country-wide raids for alleged links with Left-wing rebels called Naxals or Maoists.
But on a petition by historian Romila Thapar that linked the police crackdown to the strong views of the activists, the Supreme Court had ordered the police to place the five under house arrest rather than send them to jail.
The activists will remain under house arrest for four more weeks to allow them to seek bail, the court ruled.
On the petitioners’ plea regarding lack of evidence in the arrest, the court on Friday said it has been “seriously disputed” and ruled that the arrest was done because of their links with the members of a banned organization of the Maoists.
“The main accused have already resorted to legal remedies. They can resort to legal remedy as per law,” the court said, refusing to interfere in the case as it did not want to cause prejudice against the accused at this stage.
The lone dissenting judge, Justice D Y Chandrachud, however, questioned the arrest, saying there was a serious allegation that it was to quell dissent.
“Initiation of proceedings under Article 32 of the Constitution is not motivated by extraneous reasons. Jurisdiction was invoked in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.
“The court has to be vigilant in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 32 that liberty is not sacrificed at the altar of dissent,” he said, adding that unlawful activities have to dealt in accordance with law.
He also noted that the counter-affidavit by the Maharashtra Police does not connect the accused to the allegations made.
Slamming the cops for holding a press conference soon after the arrest, he said it “cast a doubt on the investigation process”. “It subverts the process. Trial by the media follows such police briefing.”
Calling for a fair investigation, he said the court would monitor the probe and asked periodic reports from the police.
Maharashtra Police have said the arrests were part of their probe into an event called Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017, when activists and Dalit organisations came together.
On January 1, violence broke out at Bhima Koregaon, about 40 km from Pune, as tens of thousands of Dalits celebrated the 200th anniversary of an 1818 war between the British army, manned mainly by Dalits, and the state’s Peshwa rulers.
Bhardwaj is under police guard at her home in Delhi, Rao in Hyderabad, Navlakha in Delhi, and Ferreira and Gonsalves in Mumbai. (Agencies)