NEW DELHI — Maharashtra has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition filed by five reputed academics last week to seek the release of lawyers and activists arrested by the Pune City police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence, calling them individuals “unconnected” to the case.
“The present petition is filed by five unconnected individuals… Considering the material revealed during investigation conducted so far… this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to decide the issue of maintainability of the present petition at the behest of strangers as the preliminary issue and be pleased to dismiss the same only on the said ground,” said an affidavit filed on Wednesday by Shivaji Pawar, an Assistant Commissioner of Police with the Pune City police, who is also the investigating officer in the case regarding the Bhima Koregaon violence and the alleged conspiracy behind it.
On 29 August, reputed academics including historian Romila Thapar and economist Prabhat Patnaik had filed a petition requesting the Supreme Court to direct “the immediate release from custody of all activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence and staying any arrests until the matter fully investigated and decided by this court”. The petition also sought an “independent and comprehensive enquiry” into the arrests of human rights activists in June and August this year in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Last month, the police had arrested activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha in a country-wide crackdown.
In the 17-page petition, filed through senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the academics described the Pune City police’s actions as “the biggest attack on freedom and liberty of citizens by resorting to high handed powers without credible material and evidence. The entire exercise is to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the Nation and to instil fear in minds of people. The timing of this action leaves much to be desired and appears to be motivated to deflect people’s attention from real issues”.
On 29 August, in response to the petition, the Supreme Court passed an interim order for the activists to be kept under house arrest and effectively stayed the police’s request for their transit remand and custodial interrogation in lower courts. The court had asked the Maharashtra government to file a counter affidavit on 5 September. The court will hear the matter again on Thursday.
The counter-affidavit, accessed by HuffPost India, adds that “the entire petition is based upon the individual perception of the petitioners [who are strangers to the investigation in question] that the arrested persons are “all outstanding, well known and well respected human rights crusaders” and, therefore, their arrest requires to be enquired into and the should be released on bail”.
The police have also denied that their case and investigation deny the “freedom of speech, freedom of conscience or freedom to hold and express views”. In the affidavit, ACP Pawar states that the probe has uncovered evidence that the arrested activists are “active members of the banned terrorist organisation, Communist Party of India (Maoist)” and that they were “in the process of creating large scale violence, destruction of property resulting into chaos in the society”.
The affidavit also claims that the investigation found that the Elgaar Parishad, held on 31 December 2017, was a “well thought out conspiracy” that had been organised “to play with the sentiments of a particular community”, namely Dalits. The affidavit also gave details of the items that the police seized from the homes of the activists during the raids.