SC extends house arrest of rights activists in Koregaon-Bhima violence case

Poet and activist Varavara Rao gestures as he is escorted by policemen in Hyderabad

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday extended the house arrest of five rights activists who were arrested from several cities in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case for another five days.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud adjourned the hearing on the plea filed by historian Romila Thapar and four others to September 17, after it was submitted that senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing the petitioners, was busy in another court.

Earlier, Singhvi appeared before the bench and submitted that the hearing on Thapar's plea be conducted after noon as he has to appear in another matter.

The court was hearing the plea filed against the arrest of the activists -- Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha.

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 Maharashtra police had arrested them 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.

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 petition was filed by Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpande and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala.

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 rights 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.

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

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