The interim order of house arrest of the activists will remain in force till the next hearing, i.e. September 19.

Supreme Court to examine veracity of evidence against five rights activists arrested
news Law Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 07:25

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will examine the veracity of material gathered by police against five rights activists arrested on charges of links with the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist.

Ordering the matter to be heard on Wednesday, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said: "First of all, we must look into the material. We will see the record, what are the allegations, and see if there is something real. We will quash if it is a cooked-up or clumsy story."

The interim order of house arrest of the activists will remain in force till the next hearing, i.e. September 19.

The court told the senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi: "We are protecting your liberty... your formulation on law, we will hear you on Wednesday."

In the course of the hearing, Chief Justice Misra said: "The best way to deal with it (is that) the interim order (of house arrest) will remain. All the cases will be transferred to one court."

However, this course of action was lost as the hearing took a different turn in the course of arguments by Singhvi.

The hearing saw the Centre opposing a plea by historian Romila Thapar and activist Maja Daruwala against the arrests by contending that Naxalism was not just a problem bedeviling one state but also other states in the country.

Citing the procedure and asserting that the matter be heard by a competent court, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh said that if it did not happen, every matter may start coming to the top court.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra, told the court that he will show the material to demonstrate that the five accused -- Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira -- were arrested not for airing dissent but for "activities prejudicial to the interest of the State".

As the apex court said that it will examine the veracity of the material, Mehta said that five accused can't say thereafter that they have a (judicial) remedy. 

"They can't have two remedies. Let them withdraw their respective pleas before different courts, they can't have two remedies."

Singhvi informed the court that nothing had happened in those petitions, ever since the matter came before the top court and that hearings on them have been deferred. 

Mehta reiterated his objection as to how strangers -- Romila Thapar and Maja Daruwala -- could petition the top court to challenge the arrests.

At this, CJI Misra said: "We are not concerned about the locus of the case. I have not even uttered these words."

Senior counsel Anand Grover asserted that "they (police) have not followed the procedure under the law". 

Grover said that it was no more a case of strangers moving the court as two of the five accused have filed their affidavits in the court.

Pressing for an "independent and comprehensive inquiry", the petitioners' counsel Singhvi said that he wanted to show the court some of the shocking material relied upon by the Maharashtra Police to proceed against the five activists who were arrested on August 28.

The Chief Justice said they will have to move a separate petition for an independent probe.

Referring to two FIRs filed in the case (0 of 2018 and 4/2018), Singhvi said that a part of a play by German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht calling upon the people to rise for their rights -- that was used in Bhima-Koregaon event - is the foundation of an FIR.

He told the court about the volte face by the Maharashtra government, where in response to the first FIR (0 of 2018), they blamed activists of a right-wing outfit for violence on the peaceful Dalit procession at Bhima-Koregaon village but in the case of second FIR (4/2018), backtrack on it.

Singhvi said that after the Bhima-Koregoan violence on January 1, a committee had submitted its inquiry report. The Pune police did not accept it and later even disowned it.

Describing the evidence as "fabricated", Singhvi said that police had accused the five activists of receiving a letter from one Comrade Prakash, forgetting that he is lodged in jail after his conviction in a case.

Alleging that canard is being spread about the arrested activists, Singhvi said that in the 25 cases against poet Varavara Rao, he was either acquitted or the cases withdrawn or quashed. 

In case of Vernon Gonsalves, he was acquitted in 17 of the 18 cases. In one case, an appeal is pending. Ferreira was acquitted in all 11 cases, the counsel said.

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