Elgar Parishad case: State mulls legal options over NIA taking up probe
With the Union ministry of home affairs legally transferring the Elgar Parishad probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the state government is left with two options — either to co-operate with the Central agency or to challenge the “unreasonable transfer” in the Supreme Court (SC).
The Centre had last week directed the NIA to take over the probe into the Elgar Parishad case, which was being investigated by Pune Police for suspected Maoist links. The police were investigating whether provocative speeches were made at the conclave held on December 31, 2017, which allegedly led to caste-based violence around Bhima-Koregaon village the next day. Earlier, the Maharashtra government had begun a review of the probe, with a special investigation team being considered.
“It is true that the Centre has the power under section 6 (5) [of the NIA Act] to transfer the investigation to the NIA, but it is expected to have acted reasonably. We are checking if we can claim that the Centre’s act of transferring the investigation [which was at an advanced stage] can be challenged,” state home minister Anil Deshmukh said. The state will have to challenge the provisions of the NIA Act in SC as it is a Central law.
Officials from the state government’s law and judiciary department said the state has little say in the probe’s transfer to the Central agency. It has quoted provisions in the NIA Act, empowering the Centre to transfer any probe to the federal agency. Home department officials, too, are of the same opinion, which has been conveyed to their political bosses. The government has also been notified that the state police cannot continue with their probe.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deshmukh held a meeting after the state cabinet meeting on Wednesday and discussed what stance to be taken by the government over the transfer of the case. The state government has sought opinion from legal experts and advocate-general of the state, whether the state has any further alternative to oppose the probe by the NIA.
Deshmukh said in a press conference that a decision on the NIA accessing case documents will be taken after they get a legal opinion. “We have sought the opinion of the advocate-general on the legal option available for the state. Further action will be taken once we get the opinion. The transfer of the case was an arbitrary act by the Centre and it was done without taking us into confidence,” he said.
Deshmukh, however, said that although the letter from the Centre has been received by the director-general of police (DGP), it has not reached him yet. The state government is reportedly buying more time to find out ways to confront the Centre over the case’s transfer.
Deshmukh said the transfer of the case was a deliberate act by the government to “save some people” who were involved in the Bhima-Koregaon violence. When asked if he was referring to the alleged involvement of Hindu right-wing leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, the minister said that everybody knows the role they played in the riots.
Rights activists and workers of the Dalit movement were booked for making provocative speeches at the December 31, 2017 conclave, organised at Shaniwar Wada in Pune. The activists were arrested and booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). After the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government — comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — NCP chief Sharad Pawar had last month alleged the Pune Police misused its power and arrested writers and activists for raising their voice against the state.
Last week, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Deshmukh had held a review meeting with top home department officials and officers from Pune Police last week. The state was considering setting up a SIT to review the case. Deshmukh had said that the decision about constituting a SIT will be taken after more details sought from the investigating officers were submitted. The Centre, however, shifted the case to the NIA on Friday. The Pune Police on Monday refused to granted NIA officials access to the case papers, saying they had no instructions from the state DGP.
Meanwhile, Deshmukh said he has been meeting delegations from various castes, communities and religions, expressing concerns over the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Maharashtra. Deshmukh said the government was committed to ensure that not a single citizen will lose his/her citizenship.