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The Supreme Court today refused to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the arrests of lawyers and activists made in connection to the Bhima Koregaon violence.
The judgment was delivered by the Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud.
Justice Khanwilkar delivered the majority opinion on behalf of himself and CJI Misra. Justice Chandrachud dissented from the majority.
The majority opinion held that the Court’s earlier order calling for house arrest of the activists and lawyers, will continue to operate for four more weeks.
Justice Khanwilkar held that accused persons do not have a say in which investigating agency should probe the case. He held that this was not a case of arrest merely because of political dissent. Therefore, the plea for an SIT was not entertained, with the accused given the liberty to pursue other appropriate remedies.
However, Justice Chandrachud did not agree with the views of the majority, stating that technicalities should not be allowed to override substantive justice.
Chandrachud J made some scathing observations against the Pune police for their conduct in the matter thus far. He also berated the police for conducting a press conference immediately after the Court had passed an interim order.
He also highlighted the manner in which a letter alleged to have been written by Sudha Bharadwaj was flashed on Republic TV, after the police selectively disclosing details of the probe to the media. This, Justice Chandrachud held, cast a cloud over the fairness of the investigation.
“Voices of opposition cannot be muzzled because it is dissent. Deprivation of liberty cannot be compensated later”, Chandrachud J held.
The acts of the Maharashtra police, he said, raises questions as to whether the investigation can be carried out fairly. Therefore, Chandrachud J felt that an SIT should be constituted to probe the matter.
The verdict was passed in the petition filed by Romila Thapar and four other activists challenging the raids and arrests made by the Maharashtra Police of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident.
The Supreme Court had directed the Pune Police to keep the activists/lawyers under house arrest “in their own homes” till further orders, thereby protecting their liberty.
It was contended by the State of Maharashtra that the raids were conducted based on evidence gathered from the computer systems and emails of other accused persons arrested in the same case.
The Court had warned against “cooked up evidence” against the activists in question and had asserted that an SIT will be formed to look into the validity of these raids if the evidence is found to be “cooked up”.
The State of Maharashtra maintained that there was a larger ploy at play in this case and claimed that the arrested activists have links with banned terror outfits some of them “having committed serious offences”.
The Court had remarked that liberty of people cannot be stifled based on conjectures and had asserted that it would “look at the case with hawk’s eyes”
The Court had demanded for the entire case diary to ascertain the validity of the raids and arrests in the case even as the State of Maharashtra’s submission from the beginning was that the petitioners, in this case, were “strangers” to the case and had no locus standi to challenge the arrests where they were not personally aggrieved.
The Court had reserved its order in the case on September 20.
Read the judgment below.