Bhima-Koregaon: Why no charge sheet even 10 months after FIR, asks Rajeev Dhavan

Countering Supreme Court’s order staying the Bombay High Court order refusing extension to Pune police for filing chargesheet, senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said SC should have upheld Bombay HC order

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Ashlin Mathew

Countering the Supreme Court’s order staying the Bombay High Court ruling that refused extension of time to the state police for filing charge sheet in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case, senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said the Supreme Court should have upheld the Bombay HC order. As a result of the Supreme Court order, the activists have been placed under judicial custody now.

Recently, the Bombay HC had set aside the lower court’s order, allowing an extension of time for the police to file its probe report against the rights activists in the violence case.

“The FIR in this case is from January 2018, but they were arrested eight months later in August and before that a few others were arrested in June. It is astonishing that even at the end of October, 10 months since the original FIR, no chargesheet has been made. It has been four months since the search and seizure in June. The best course perhaps could have been to release those in judicial custody on bail and probably ask them to stay in Pune,” emphasised Dhavan.

The Maharashtra Police had arrested five activists—Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha—in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave—’Elgaar Parishad’—held last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state

Dhavan said the Supreme Court did not stop the investigation, even while the activists were under house arrest. “Why is it taking them so long?” questioned Dhavan.

“The Supreme Court should have got an assurance from all those accused that they would cooperate with the investigations and not leave town. After granting them bail, the Supreme Court should have laid down stringent conditions for them. If they are all confined to town, then there is nothing to suggest that they would interfere in the investigations in any way,” pointed out Dhavan.

“The most important thing is justice should not be denied. Rohinton Nariman in a 2018 judgement had said that even Magna Carta had Clause 39 to ensure bail,” emphasised Dhavan.

It must be remembered that all of those arrested were living in their cities and hadn’t relocated. Sudha Bharadwaj was teaching at the National Law University, Delhi. Gautam Navlakha was writing articles for a magazine. Vara Vara Rao is a professor. This was not a case where the custodial interrogation should have been extended. There are many citizens would would have come forward as surety to these people,” said Dhavan.

Under the UAPA, 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.

A Pune special court on Saturday, October 27, sent three civil liberties activists, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon S Gonsalves and Arun T Ferreira, to police custody till November 6 for their alleged involvement in the Koregaon-Bhima caste riots on January 1. Shortly after their bail pleas were rejected, Gonsalves was arrested from his Pune home and Ferreira from Thane. They were under 'house arrest' for almost two months following a Supreme Court directive.

In the remand plea, the Pune Police contended that Gonsalves and Ferreira were entrusted with recruitment through the Radical Students Union (RSU) on behalf of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and sending them to the guerrilla warfare zones. The police said they wanted to probe how many and who had been hired for these causes.

The Maharashtra Police had arrested five activists—Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha—in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave—'Elgaar Parishad'—held last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the state.

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