The Supreme Court on Thursday wondered why a Pune court sat on a Sunday to decide the plea of Maharashtra police seeking extension of 90-day limit for filing the charge sheet against arrested rights activist in the Koregaon-Bhima violence case.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also reserved its verdict on the Maharashtra government's appeal challenging the refusal of the Bombay High Court to extend the 90-day limit for filing the charge sheet in the case.
The Bench, which also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao and SK Kaul, was told that the state police filed an application seeking extension of time by 90 more days for filing the charge sheet on August 30, 2018. The 90 days period was expiring on September 3.
But the trial court took up the case for hearing on September 2, a Sunday, and extended the time for filing the charge sheet by another 90 days which dis-entitled the arrested accused from getting the statutory bail.
"Heavens would not have fallen if the trial court would have heard the case on Monday (September 3)," the Bench observed, and asked if the trial court had recorded any reason for hearing the case on Sunday.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and lawyer Nishant Katneshwar, appearing for Maharashtra, said that the trial court had recorded its reasons for its hearing on a Sunday, and assailed the Bombay High Court's decision to set aside the extension of time given for filing the charge sheet.
"This is a very, very serious matter and pertains to armed rebellion across India. This is not the case where the accused can be allowed to get default bail," Mr Rohatgi said.
He said the legal requirements have been complied with as the investigating officer (IO) and the public prosecutor both filed two separate applications seeking extension of time and the courts should not be nit-picking and giving reliefs to the accused on procedural and technical grounds.
Senior advocates AM Singhvi, Anand Grover and Indira Jaising appeared for the accused and said that the issue pertained to the fundamental right of liberty of the accused and the high court's order should not be interfered with.
Ms Jaising said the Public Prosecutor did not apply his mind independently while filing the application seeking extension of time for filing the charge sheet.
She said the state police has been indulging in "ever-greening" the cases to ensure that one of the five arrested accused, Surendra Gadling, remains in jail and alleged that he has been summoned in an FIR registered in 2016.
Ms Jaising also said that in the case in which Surendra Gadling is going to be arrested, no charge sheet had been filed and moreover, all other accused are out on bail.
The top court was hearing an appeal of the state government against the Bombay High Court's order refusing to extend the time limit of 90 days by another 90 days for filing the probe report in the violence case.
The apex court had stayed the Bombay High Court order. The charge-sheet has already been filed by the state police before a local court in the case.
The Pune Police had arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling, Nagpur University professor Shoma Sen, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, activist Mahesh Raut and Kerala native Rona Wilson in June for their alleged links with Maoists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Earlier, the top court had asked the state government to submit the "gist" of allegations and the probe report filed against rights activists arrested in the case.
The Maharashtra Government had on October 25 moved the apex court challenging the Bombay High Court order by which the extension of time granted to state police to conclude probe in the violence case was set aside.
Prior to this, the apex court had refused to interfere with the arrest of five rights activists by the Maharashtra Police in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case and declined to appoint a SIT for probe into their arrest.
The arrests had followed raids at their residences and offices in connection with the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31 last year, which, the police claimed, had led to violence at Bhima Koregaon the next day.
Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a charge sheet must be filed within 90 days of arrest. However, the prosecutor can file a report before the trial court, explaining the reasons for the delay, and seek more time. If satisfied, the court can extend the time by 90 days. In the case at hand, the Pune sessions court had granted the police the additional 90 days, following an application from the investigating officer (IO) and written submissions by an assistant commissioner of police (ACP).
The petition filed in the top court by the state government said the investigating officer had filed an application in the trial court under his signature giving reasons for extension of time on August 30, 2018.
"On the very same day, the public prosecutor submitted her report/application carving out the grounds for extension of time. The public prosecutor, by way of abundant precaution, took signature of the investigating officer. But the HC was carried away by the fact of signature of the investigating officer and arrived at a conclusion that the report/application was not by the public prosecutor," the plea had said.
It had also said that the high court should not have been carried away by the fact of mentioning of names of parties in detail.