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SC extends house arrest of activists in Bhima-Koregaon case till Sept 19

The bench said if there are some grave lapses, it may consider prayers like investigation by a SIT into the case

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court Monday said it will examine two days later whether there is material supporting the arrest of five rights activists in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra extended till September 19 the house arrest of the five rights activists--Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha-- at their respective homes.

"Every criminal investigation is based on allegations and we have to see whether there is some material," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.

The bench said if there are some grave lapses, it may consider prayers like investigation by a Special Investigating Team (SIT) into the case.

The plea by Thapar and others has sought an independent probe into the arrests and the immediate release of the five activists.

The bench fixed the plea by Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala for final hearing on Wednesday. The court had on September 12 extended the house arrest of the activists till today.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra government, said the court should make it clear that after adjudication by it, the arrested accused cannot avail remedies simultaneously on similar issues at other judicial fora.

The Maharashtra police had arrested the rights activists on August 28 in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave -- 'Elgaar Parishad' -- held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village.

Prominent Telugu poet Rao was arrested on August 28 from Hyderabad, while activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were nabbed from Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad in Haryana and civil liberties activist Navlakha from Delhi.

The Supreme Court had on September 6 taken strong exception to the statement of a senior police officer on the arrest of the activists, saying he had cast "aspersions" on the top court.

An irked court had referred to the statements made to the media by an Assistant Commissioner of Police of Pune and said he was casting aspersions on the apex court by saying it should not have entertained the petition against the arrests.

The Maharashtra government had told the court that the petitioners were "strangers" to the mater and questioned their locus. Its counsel had said there was enough evidence including the materials taken from the activists' computers and other sources which belied the perception of the petitioners about those arrested.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, the counsel for Tushar Damgude who had filed the FIR in the Koregaon-Bhima violence, had opposed the plea of Thapar and said it could have been raised in the magistrate's court by the affected parties.

Earlier, the Maharashtra government had filed its response to the plea claiming the five activists were arrested due to the cogent evidence linking them with the banned CPI (Maoist) and not because of their dissenting views.

The state's response had come in the backdrop of the apex court, while ordering the house arrest of the five activists on August 29, categorically stating that "dissent is the safety valve of democracy".

The court had questioned the state police's move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said all of them were reputed citizens and "stifling the dissent" was not good.