Supreme Court Judgment- Romila Thapar & Ors.vs. Union of India & Ors. (Writ Petition (Crl.) no. 260 of 2018 decided on 28.09.2018)
In this case, a petition was filed in the form of Public Interest Litigation by five famous people in different fields of society. The petition was filed challenging the arrest of five human right activists alleging that the Maharashtra police was fabricating these people in Bhima Koregaon violence. It was prayed by this petition that there should be independent inquiry by Special Investigation Team.
Following are the brief facts of this case:
- In this case, a PIL was filed by the famous historian Romila Thapar along with four other famous persons hereinafter called “petitioners” challenging the alleged unlawful arrest of five social activists, namely, Gautam Navalakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, P. Varavara Rao, and Sudha Bharadwaj, hereinafter called “accused persons”.
- That the above-mentioned people were arrested by Maharashtra police from different places in relation with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
- That multiple arrests and raids were carried out by Maharashtra police in several cities alleging the connections of the persons with banned extremist organization CPI(M) or their links with Maoists who triggered Bhima Koregaon violence.
- That the petitioners prayed in the petition for a separate investigation by a Special Investigation Team in the matter of the arrest of accused persons. It was alleged that Maharashtra police was biased and their action of arrest was arbitrary in nature.
- Petitioners alleged in the petition that arrest was malafide as the motive of such arrest was to restrain or to stop the social activists from the raising of voice which was against the concerned government.
- It was contended that there was misuse of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against the arrested accused persons because there was no such legal criminal history of those people in relation to any involvement in any violence.
- It was contended by the petitioners that there was lack of evidences against the accused persons who were arrested by Maharashtra police.
- It was also the contention made by petitioners that people were arrested who were working for the welfare of the common people of society on the basis of a counter FIR which was prepared with ulterior motive in relation to Bhima Koregaon violence.
- It was contended that regarding Bhima Koregaon violence, FIR was registered on 2.1.2018 against some hindutva leaders who were alleged to instigate the violence. Against such complaint there was another FIR registered on 8.1.2018 regarding the same incident of violence and police deliberately framed the social activists in consonance of the same. So that police can distract the public from the real culprits and voice of dissent could be stop.
- It was argued by the respondent that the arrest of accused persons was made in the light of evidences against them. It was clear in the investigation by police that these people have connections with Maoists (Communal Party of India) which was a banned organization and tagged as a terrorist organization. They all were active members of the conspiracy of Bhima Koregaon violence.
- A contention was made that this petition was prepared by the individual perception that accused persons were well respected social activists. The arrest was not to stop their voice against the government. There were evidences showing their participation in planning, financing and instigating the above-mentioned incident of violence.
- It was contended by the respondent that in search procedure many documents were found showing the active participation of such people in the offence against the country, armed forces for the destabilization of society.
- Whether there can be investigation through Special Investigation Team monitored by the court?
- Whether such a person can be released by the court on the basis of the perception of petitioners that accused persons were framed in the case?
Judgment and Decision-
- Regarding the first issue, the Supreme Court referred Narmada Bai vs. State of Gujarat and Ors.[iii] And observed that accused persons cannot choose the investigating agency of own choice in any case.
- Court held that it was not the case about the arrest because of contradictory views or difference in the political ideology, but it was regarding their link with the members of the banned terrorist organization and its activities.
- Supreme Court of India by majority judgment dismissed the petition and rejected the prayer for SIT probe into the Bhima-Koregaon violence and the other incidents of arrest related to this matter.
- Court ordered for the house arrest of three persons who could be arrested by police in meanwhile and for those who were already arrested, house arrest was extended.
- Regarding the second issue, the apex court held that various remedies are available to the accused at different stages of investigation and trial as well before authority of competent jurisdiction. They are at liberty to avail the same.
- Court held that petitioners were strangers to the offence and its investigation and were merely next friends of the arrested accused persons. They cannot be heard for the reliefs which cannot be granted even to the accused persons. What cannot be done directly is not allowed to be done indirectly as well. It cannot be done in the form of public interest litigation also.
- The court rejected the petition by leaving investigating officer free to take appropriate actions which are required to be taken against accused persons as per the law of the land.