The Supreme Court today refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists, saying there was prima facie material to show that they had links to a banned Maoist group and rejected their argument that they were arrested for their dissenting views.
Rejecting a request to set up a special team to probe the five activists, the court said the accused do not have a say in deciding which agency should investigate them and told Maharashtra Police to go ahead with the probe.
This is not the stage to inquire into whether the charges are genuine or fabricated, said the majority verdict of the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
Lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, Telugu poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested on August 28 in country-wide raids for alleged links with Left-wing rebels called Naxals or Maoists.
They have been under house arrest since the Maharashtra Police arrested them on August 28 while probing an alleged Maoist link to a meeting of the Elgaar Parishad in Pune on the eve of the January 1 violence in Bhima Koregaon. In a 2-1 verdict, the three-judge bench rejected the petition seeking the release of activists, saying the arrests were not due to “dissent and differences in ideology.”
Earlier, on a petition by historian Romila Thapar that linked the police crackdown to the strong views of the activists, the Supreme Court had ordered the police to place the five under house arrest rather than send them to jail. The activists will remain under house arrest for four more weeks to allow them to seek bail, the court ruled.
On the petitioners’ plea regarding lack of evidence in the arrest, the court said it has been “seriously disputed” and ruled that the arrest was done because of their links with the members of a banned organisation of the Maoists.
While the initial arrests of the activists were made in connection with their role in the Elgaar Parishad event, the Pune police said the probe had later expanded to look at the “larger conspiracies being hatched by banned outfits.”
Welcoming the Supreme court’s stand, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fednavis said that the decision of the apex court proved that there was no conspiracy behind the arrest of activists by State police,