THE Bombay High Court has asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and State of Maharashtra to file their responses on a plea filed by activists arrested in Elgar Parishad case. The plea challenges the transfer of the investigation to the NIA after completion of the investigation (read more here).

 

The plea has been filed by activist lawyer Surendra Gadling and Social worker- poet Sudhir Dhawale and came up for hearing today before Bombay High Court. The court issued notices and directed the Respondent parties to file their replies before 14th July 2020. The petition challenges the intentions behind the sudden and belated transfer of investigation to NIA. While calling it a misuse of power, the petition also enlists various reasons to support its contention of malafide intentions, political vendetta, and extraneous consideration.

 

Background

 

Adv Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale, amongst others, were arrested on 6th June 2018 (read more here). The police have alleged their participation in Koregaon Bhima riots which took place on 1.01.2018 in Maharashtra. Enlarging the theory of conspiracy, 6 more prominent activists, journalists, scholars and lawyers were arrested from across the country. The chargesheet filed against the 9 arrested activists, alleges that the program, organized on 31.12.2017, was Maoist ploy to incite feelings of hatred between communities. 

 

Suspicion of Political malaise behind U-turn

 

By invoking stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 many allegations have been leveled against the activists, including plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister. In August 2018, eminent historian Romila Thapar and others had approached Supreme Court and called the second round of arrest an attempt to target dissent. The Home Ministry, through the respondent Union of India, not only opposed the prayer for a Special Investigation Team but had in fact praised the investigation carried out by the State Police. Ultimately the petition was dismissed with a split verdict of 2:1.

 

The recent change of guard in Maharashtra, wherein the Nationalist Congress Party and Indian National Congress became part of the government along with Shiv Sena, has stirred the case. Stalwarts like Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh have demanded an independent probe in the matter, so as to bring real culprits to book. These demands and repeated press conferences have accused the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnvis as a perpetrator of the violence along with Hindu fundamentalist Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.

 

While the State was about to pass a decision on initiating an independent probe, all of a sudden the Central Government invoked its powers under the NIA Act 2008, handed over the case to NIA. Initially, the State Government protested and called the order as violative of the federal structure and beyond the scope of purview and power.  Later on, it wielded resulting in NIA taking over the case.

 

Petitioners case to court

 

Taking exception to the action of the Central Government, the petitioners have knocked on the door of the High Court and seek for quashing the order. Petitioners have also arrayed the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis, Manohar Kulkarni alias Sambhaji Bhide, and BJPs Ex-Corporator Milind Ekbote as party respondents, calling them the masterminds in forging case against the arrested activists. The petition further states an independent investigation by an independent agency would have clearly shown Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide as the main perpetrators behind the riot. The petitioners are being represented by Senior Counsel Satish Talekar amongst others.

 

In the hearing that took place today through video conferencing, the NIA was represented by Senior Counsel and Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh. They insisted that formal notices should not be issued and the department will file its reply in  four weeks time. They argued that thereafter court may consider if the petition is worthy of any consideration. Refusing this request, the court has issued notices to NIA, Union of India, the Chief Investigating officer along with the State Government and other concerned officers under it. However, it chose not to issue notices to the private respondents and made it clear that same will be taken in consideration if occasion so arises.

 

The matter is directed to be heard on 14.07.2020

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