The National Investigation Agency (NIA) told the Bombay High Court today that the Centre has decided suo motu (on its own) to transfer the probe into the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case from the Pune Police to the central agency as it had implications on national security.
The NIA also said its credibility is being questioned, while it is fighting to prevent unlawful and terrorist activities in the country, in which the "Naxal plague" has caused destruction at many levels.
It further claimed that while considerable autonomy and functional prerogatives have been accorded to state governments, greater powers and prerogatives over a complex range of all-encompassing subjects are vested with the Union government.
The central agency submitted its affidavit in the High Court in response to a petition filed by human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Sudhir Dhawale, arrested in the case, challenging the January 2020 decision of the Union government to transfer the probe into the case from the Pune police to the NIA.
The petition, filed through advocate SB Talekar in 2020, alleged that the case was transferred by the central government after the BJP lost power in Maharashtra and hence, the decision was "politically motivated".
On Tuesday, SB Talekar told a division bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar that the probe into the case was transferred to the NIA two years after the FIR was registered.
He submitted to the court that the NIA had filed an affidavit in the case, but the Centre and the Maharashtra government are yet to file their affidavits.
However, NIA's counsel Sandesh Patil said he was not aware of the affidavit filed by the probe agency.
"The earlier advocate appearing for the NIA must have filed it. I will have to check. Give me a week's time to put our house in order," Mr Patil said.
The bench then posted the petition for further hearing on July 19.
The NIA in its affidavit said considering the gravity of the offence and its "inter-state link and implications on national security", the Centre suo motu directed the NIA to take up investigation into the case.
"The present petition is malafide and vexatious as it is a desperate attempt by the petitioner to thwart the investigation into the case related to the Elgar Parishad," the affidavit said.
The affidavit said the NIA was probing the case against the petitioners and other co-accused in a "responsible and impartial manner" and it had no personal agenda against them.
After the NIA took over the probe into the case, a Pune court transferred the case to the special NIA court in Mumbai, it added.
The NIA in its affidavit also said the "continuous preservation and promotion of national security is the first and final sovereign function of a country".
It claimed that while considerable autonomy and functional prerogatives have been accorded to state governments, greater powers and prerogatives over a complex range of all-encompassing subjects are vested with the Union government.
"A contextual construction of the provisions of the Constitution of India would show that the sovereign function of maintenance of national security is squarely vested with the Union (government)," it said.
The affidavit further said the primary objective is to establish the NIA is to better tackle cross-border crimes with inter-state and international originations and ramifications.
Apart from Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale, several other activists - Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen - have been arrested in the case.
They are accused of being active members of the CPI (Maoist) and propagating Maoist ideology and inciting violence.
The activists have been charged under provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), apart from various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy was also arrested in the case. The 84-year-old tribal rights activist died in a Mumbai hospital last week in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds.
The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which, the police claimed, triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.
The police had claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.