Bhima Koregaon judicial panel requests state to put hearings on hold due to Covid
The Bhima Koregaon judicial commission has written to the chief secretary, government of Maharashtra, requesting the state government to put the extension notification on hold at least till the end of the year due to the aggravating Covid-19 situation in the state.
The Maharashtra home department had granted the final extension to the commission to complete its task and submit its report before December 31. It is the seventh extension granted to the two-member commission probing the January 1, 2018, riots at Bhima Koregaon near Pune. The previous extension ended on April 8 when the Centre had announced a nationwide lockdown, bringing the commission’s work to standstill.
Commission secretary V V Palnitkar in his letter dated October 6 stated, “Covid-19 pandemic is very much active even today. Thousands of new patients and hundreds of deaths are still being reported every day. Safety measures like use of mask, social distancing and sanitisation are mandatory. There are restrictions on travel in local trains. Travel by other modes of public transport is not safe. Also, most of the staff members of the commission stay out of Mumbai in places like Virar and Navi Mumbai. Staff members of the commission are not treated as government employees. They have not been given regular government IDs. Therefore, they are not allowed to travel by local trains. Some of the staff members are senior citizens and have history of comorbity. Witnesses and advocates may also find it unsafe to travel during this pandemic. The overall situation makes it very difficult to hold sittings without risking life of the concerned people.”
“Although the commission is willing to resume its functioning, it is facing the challenges mentioned above. Therefore, the commission requests the government to put the notification dated October 5, 2020, on hold at least till the end of this year ,” he added.
The commission also said that it was still waiting for the government to reply to its request seeking additional space for sittings in Mumbai . The communication states, “In anticipation of extension of term of the commission and in view of the safety directions issued by the government about social distancing; the commission vide its letter dated July 7, 2020, informed the government of its difficulties in holding sittings in the small-sized hearing hall situated at the premises of the State Chief Information Commission (SCIC) and requested the government to provide an auditorium and two suites from Sahyadri Guest House and one suite in the Sahyadri annex building so that office of the commission could be shifted temporarily. The commission is waiting for reply. However, the commission has received copy of notification dated October 5, stating that the commission should submit its report by December 31, 2020,” the letter added.
“It has become difficult for advocates and witnesses to attend the hearing due to the fear of infection. The staff members have also expressed their fears about contracting the virus. The commission does not want them to come to office in such a situation and moreover, they are not government employees. Earlier, we had to postpone hearings during the lockdown and now the situation has aggravated further. We are finding it very difficult to conduct the hearings. We will have to think about the safety measures,” said Palnitkar.
The two-member Bhima Koregaon inquiry commission, headed by retired Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Jay Narayan Patel, also includes former chief secretary and the present chief information officer of Maharashtra, Sumit Mullick as its member. VV Palnitkar is serving as the registrar of the commission. The commission functions with the powers of a civil court in two locations: the Public Information Office at Madam Cama road, Mumbai and the Zilla Parishad building in Bund garden, Pune.