Criminal lawyer Surendra Gadling and poet Sudhir Dhawale, who have been accused in the Elgar Parishad case, have moved the Bombay high court (HC), challenging the case being transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in February this year and alleged that it is politically motivated because Pune Police had already filed a charge sheet and followed it with a supplementary charge sheet on February 21, 2019.
A two-member division bench of the HC, comprising Justices SS Shinde and Abhay Ahuja, has asked the Central government and the NIA to respond to the petition.
Additional solicitor-general Anil Singh and advocate Sandesh Patil, appearing for the central government and NIA, respectively, sought time from the court, and the case will be heard next on July 14.
The plea alleged that the Central government had no knowledge about the offence in early 2018 and it did not instruct the NIA authorities to probe for over one and a half years and let Maharashtra Police handle the case, but later handed it over to the central agency after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost power in Maharashtra last year.
The case was transferred to the NIA authorities on February 12 this year.
The plea cited a petition filed by historian Romila Thapar before the Supreme Court in August, 2018, where the Central government had defended the Maharashtra Police’s role in investigating the case, to buttress its argument that the handing over the probe to the NIA was politically motivated.
Additional solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Central government, had also argued before the apex court that the integrity of the investigation officer (IO) shouldn’t be doubted as there was enough evidence against each of the nine accused, the plea added.
The petition quoted Mehta, who had said that the request to “set up the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was against the cardinal criminal jurisprudence”.
The petitioners pointed out that the central government, the Maharashtra government, and an intervenor had opposed a court-monitored investigation or an SIT, claiming it was being conducted “responsibly and impartially by the Pune Police”.
It pointed out to the legal loopholes such as the Central government’s refusal to transfer the case to NIA within 15 days, but did it after 18 months even though there was no change in the prevailing circumstances.
The petition attributed the change in circumstances to a change of guard in Maharashtra politics, as the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was voted out of power last year and Maha Vikas Aghadi – a three-party coalition comprising the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress – assumed office and was reportedly planning to constitute an SIT to enquire into the causes that led to violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, before the case got transferred to the NIA on February 12.
The bench also heard the application of activist Sudha Bharadwaj, another accused in the Elgar Parishad case.
Bharadwaj, through senior advocate Yug Choudhary, has challenged the rejection of her interim bail application by a special court. The court has posted the hearing of the plea on Friday, as the petition was not served on all the parties.
Earlier, on January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Pune district, where thousands of Dalits had gathered to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. In that battle, the British Army’s Dalit Mahar soldiers had defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire.
The commemoration took place a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was held. The Pune Police conducted a preliminary probe and claimed that the violence in Bhima Koregaon was the result of speeches made at the Elgar Parishad event.
They alleged that banned Maoist groups organised the event, and a first information report (FIR) was also filed.
In June 2018, the Pune Police arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur, and Delhi — Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Shoma Sen — for their alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and also for organising the Elgar Parishad event.
In August 2018, the police arrested four more activists — Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao.
While Gautam Navlakha and Dr. Anand Teltumbde were arrested on April 14 this year, taking the total number of the accused in the case to 11.