SC declines SIT probe, says arrests not for dissent

Representational Pic

New Delhi (IANS): In a 2:1 majority judgment, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere in the arrest of five activists in the Bhima Koregaon case in Maharashtra. It also declined to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT), allowing Pune police to go ahead with its probe.

The house arrest of the five rights activists -- Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira -- will continue for four more weeks, said a majority judgment, read out by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar also on behalf of Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

He said that in the perusal of documents submitted before the bench it was not a case of arrest merely because of dissent or difference in political views.

In a dissenting judgment, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said liberty cherished by the Constitution would have no meaning if persecution of the five rights activists were allowed without a proper investigation.

Justice Chandrachud lashed out at the Pune police for going public with evidence and termed it as disconcerting behaviour.

Rejecting the plea seeking the SIT probe into charges that the five have links with banned CPI (Maoist) outfit and were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to kill sovereign leaders, the bench said: "The accused person cannot have a choice in the investigating agency."

However, Justice Khanwilkar said that the accused were at liberty to pursue appropriate legal relief. 

As the bench extended its interim order putting them under house arrest, in his dissenting judgment Justice Chandrachud recalled the sequence of events when a senior police officer held a press conference and released letters. 

Justice Chandrachud said that the impartiality of the Maharashtra Police was in doubt as it had tried to prejudice public opinion. He questioned, "whether the Maharashtra Police can be trusted to carry out an impartial investigation".

He ordered a court-monitored SIT probe and said that the technicalities of law cannot be allowed to override the substantive justice. 

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