On Wednesday, the Supreme Court extended the five activists’ house arrest term, stating that they would continue to be grounded till September 17, when the apex court will hear the matter.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud adjourned the hearing on the plea filed by historian Romila Thapar and four others to September 17 after it was submitted that senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing the petitioners, was busy in another court.
Earlier, Singhvi appeared before the bench and submitted that the hearing on Thapar’s plea be conducted after 12 pm as he has to appear in another matter.The court was hearing the plea filed against the arrest of the rights activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — in the case.
Prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha was arrested from New Delhi.
Last week, the SC had lashed out at Maharashtra Police for questioning the court.
A visibly angry Justice D Y Chandrachud, who along with Justice A M Khanwilkar was part of a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, referred to the statements made to the media by an Assistant Commissioner of Police of Pune and said he was casting aspersions on the apex court by saying that it should not have entertained the plea.
“I watched the press briefing by the Assistant Commissioner, Pune which insinuated that the Supreme Court should not have intervened at this stage. He has no business saying that and casting aspersions on the Supreme Court Judges,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Maharashtra government, immediately apologised for the action of the police officer.
“Tell him we have taken it very seriously You (law officer) must ask your police officials to be more responsible. The matter is before us and we don’t want to hear from police officials that the Supreme Court is wrong,” the judge said.
The Maharashtra government had told the apex court that the five rights activists were arrested due to the cogent evidence linking them with the banned CPI(Maoist) and not because of their dissenting views.
The state police had filed the affidavit in response to a plea of historian Romila Thapar and four others, challenging the arrest of the five activists in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case, and claimed that they were planning to carry out violence in the country and ambush the security forces.
The Maharashtra police had arrested the five activists in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave ‘Elgaar Parishad’ held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village.
The court had questioned the state police’s move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said all of them were reputed citizens and “stifling the dissent” was not good.
The plea by Thapar and others has sought an independent probe into the arrests and their immediate release.
Koregaon-Bhima occupies a central place in Dalit history it witnessed a major battle in which the Peshwa rulers were defeated on January 1, 1818, by the British army, comprising a large number of Dalit soldiers.
Every year, the anniversary of the battle is marked by thousands of Dalits assembling in Pune and marching to Koregaon-Bhima to a war memorial.
Police say the speeches made at the conclave on December 31, a day before the 200th anniversary of the battle, were one of the triggers for the violence.