- Five activists will remain under house arrest for four more weeks
- Justice DY Chandrachud read out the dissenting view
- Prima facie material to show link with Maoist group: Top court
The Supreme Court today refused to interfere with the arrests of five rights activists - accused of links to Maoists - and extended their house arrest by four more weeks. In a majority 2-1 judgement, the top court also refused the activists' petition for a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT).
Reading out the majority verdict for himself and Chief Justice Misra, Justice Khanwilkar said that "this was not a case of arrest merely because of dissent or difference in political views but there was prima facie material to show their link with the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation."
Justice DY Chandrachud, who read out the dissenting view, said "there is no basis to link the activists with the allegations by police." He said the arrests were an attempt by the state to muzzle dissent.
The five activists - Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha - have been under house since August 29. The Maharashtra Police have alleged that their actions at the 'Elgaar Parishad' meeting in Pune on December 31 last year later triggered violence at Koragaon-Bhima village, 29 km away.
The majority verdict disagreed with the petition by historian Romila Thapar and others seeking immediate release of the five activists. Justice Khanwilkar said the duration of house arrest had been extended to enable to enable the accused to seek appropriate legal remedy at an appropriate legal forum.
"The accused person cannot have a choice in the investigating agency," the majority verdict said, rejecting an SIT probe in the case.
Justice Khanwilkar refrained from commenting on the merits of the case, saying it may prejudice the case of the accused and the prosecution.
In his dissenting judgement, Justice Chandrachud said liberty cherished by the Constitution would have no meaning if persecution of the five rights activists is allowed without proper investigation. Questioning the Maharashtra police's press conference on the case, Justice Chandrachud said, "There are serious concern and cloud over the probe over police action for briefing and using the electronic media for media trial," he said.
Last month, senior officers of the Maharashtra police had claimed solid evidence including "thousands of documents and letters" that established the activists' links to Maoists and their role in facilitating weapons and funding. In front of cameras, senior police officer Param Bir Singh had read out a letter exchanged between an activist arrested earlier in June, which spoke of planning "another Rajiv Gandhi-like incident to end Modi-raj".
"The court has to be vigilant that liberty is not sacrificed on the altar of conjecture. The conduct of police to use the media to cast aspersion on the activists is questionable," Justice Chandrachud said.
As an example of what happens when the police falter in handling important cases, Justice Chandrachud pointed to the 'ISRO spy case' in which the Kerala police were found responsible for filing false cases against the space agency's top scientists. "Recently, Supreme Court granted compensation to a scientist of Rs 50 lakh after 24 years of the incident," Justice Chandrachud said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the Supreme Court's decision on the activists' arrest proves there was no conspiracy behind the action by the state police.
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