Elgar Parishad case: HC asks Centre, NIA to respond after plea claims probe transfer was politically motivated

The case, in which several other rights activists have been arrested and accused of having Maoist links, was transferred from the Pune police to the NIA on January 24 this year.
According to the prosecution, inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, triggered caste violence at Bhima-Koregaon the next day.(HT file photo)
According to the prosecution, inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, triggered caste violence at Bhima-Koregaon the next day.(HT file photo)
Updated on Jun 24, 2020 11:38 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | ByKAY Dodhiya

A petition filed by criminal lawyer Surendra Gadling and poet Sudhir Dhawale, both accused in the Elgar Parishad case, before the Bombay high court (HC), has challenged the case being transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), claiming it to be politically motivated as a charge sheet and a supplementary charge sheet were already filed by Pune police. In the petition filed last week, Gadling and Dhawale alleged that the transfer of the probe was done by the Central government as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost power in Maharashtra.

The case, in which several other rights activists have been arrested and accused of having Maoist links, was transferred from the Pune police to the NIA on January 24 this year. According to the prosecution, inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, triggered caste violence at Bhima-Koregaon the next day.

An HC division bench of justices SS Shinde and Abhay Ahuja on Tuesday asked the Central government and NIA to respond to the petition. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh and advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for the Centre and NIA respectively, sought time from the court to take instructions and file their response to the petition, which the court accepted, and posted the matter for hearing on July 14.

The petitioners claimed that “no doubt the scheme of the act does not expressly stipulate the stage at which the investigation needs to be transferred to the NIA, however, the same cannot be read to grant to the Central Government an unbridled and unguided power to direct investigation of scheduled offences by NIA long after the charge sheet was filed in the Court by the Investigation Agency of the State Government, purely for political concerns”.

The petition went on to state that the Central government had specific knowledge about the offence as early as 2018, but had not directed the NIA to investigate for a period of one- and-a-half years.

“On the contrary, it [Central government] allowed the state police to continue with the investigation and showed complete faith in it and defended the investigation by state police machinery before the Supreme Court(SC) in a petition filed by Romila Thapar,” read the petition.

The petitioners went to state that Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general appearing for the Union of India, had vehemently argued before SC that the integrity of the investigating officer cannot be doubted as there was enough material against each of the accused.

“According to him [Mehta], the request to set up the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was completely against the cardinal criminal jurisprudence,” read the petition.

The petition further stated that the Centre, Maharashtra state and an intervenor had opposed a court-monitored investigation or an SIT, claiming that “the investigation was being conducted responsibly and impartially by an officer of the rank of an assistant commissioner of police and the same was carried out under the supervision of a deputy commissioner of police and was being monitored by the joint commissioner of police who was of the rank of an additional director general.” The case was then being investigated by Pune police.

The petition went on to state that once the Centre had then refused to exercise the powers available to transfer the case to NIA within 15 days, it could not have subsequently exercised the same, particularly when there was no change in circumstance in the real sense.

The petition claimed that the only change that prompted the Centre to direct NIA to investigate the case was after the BJP-led government in Maharashtra was voted out of power, and a new government formed by the Maharashta Vikas Aghadi, comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), was intending to constitute SIT to enquire into the circumstances that led to violence at Bhima-Koregaon.

The petitioners claimed that no new statement was recorded or evidence was gathered by Pune police after it had filed a supplementary charge sheet on February 21, 2019. “Thus there was no new material that could have prompted the much delayed and curiously timed decision of the Central Government to transfer the investigation only after BJP lost power in the state,” claimed the petition.

Meanwhile, the bench also heard the application of activist Sudha Bharadwaj, another accused in the Elgar Parishad case too. Bharadwaj, through senior advocate Yug Choudhary, has challenged the rejection of her interim bail application by a special court.

After hearing the application, the court posted the hearing on Friday as copies of the petition were not served to all parties.

Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in June 2018 and are currently lodged at the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.

Apart from Gadling, Dhawale and Bharadwaj, the other arrested accused include Rona Wilson, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira.

They were booked under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

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