The Bombay High Court has dismissed Senior Professor Anand Teltumbde’s petition to quash and set aside the First Information Report (FIR) registered against him in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence in January this year. The Court had reserved its verdict on December 17, and the Judgement was pronounced on December 21.
The Court stated that “we are of the opinion that this is not a case where there is no incriminating material against the Petitioner. It is also not possible to record a finding that implicating the Petitioner as one of accused is a malafide exercise of powers on the part of Investigating Agency. The offence is serious. The conspiracy is deep rooted and has extremely serious repercussions. The Investigating Agency must be allowed to have sufficient opportunity to collect evidence. The investigation is in progress”.
Also Read | The Entire Process is Conducted as Though I Was a Dreaded Terrorist: Anand Teltumbde
Following the Elgar Parishad organised on December 29, 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, on January 1, a march was scheduled on the anniversary of the event where a British force comprising of Mahar Dalits defeated the Peshwa Marathas. The event has become a symbol of Dalit resistance against upper caste domination. However, during the march to the site, violence broke out allegedly at the behest of the upper caste mobs. The preliminary inquiry found a strong connection between Hindutva icons Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, and the violence that ensued.
On January 8, Tushar Damgude registered an FIR in Pune alleging a conspiracy to be behind the violence. In June, the Pune police arrested Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut, alleging that they were Maoists. Later in August, a series of raids across the country led to Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha being arrested in connection with the violence. At the time, a raid had been conducted on Anand Teltumbde’s residence at the Goa Institute of Management where he holds the Chair at Big Data Analytics. Teltumbde was not present at the time of the raid.
Also Read | Arrests of Activists: Why Pune Police Is Aggressively Pursuing Tushar Damgude’s FIR
The prosecution’s case rested on five letters – which allegedly linked Teltumbde to the Elgar Parishad violence, and to the Communitst Party of India (Maoist) – as well as some other evidence which the Court did not wish to reproduce in the interest of the investigation.
Teltumbde’s counsel pointed out that none of the documents presented were recovered from Teltumbde. He relied on the Judicial precedents in Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam and Indra Das v. State of Assam where the Supreme Court had declared that merely being a member of a banned organisation does not amount to an offence, unless the person takes part in or incites violence. He also mentioned the Judgement in the 2011 case of Common Cause & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. where the Supreme Court had held that incriminating material in the form of loose papers does not constitute evidence.
Also Read | Bombay HC Rescues Reliance Workers Ensnared in Bhima Koregaon Case Web
The Court, however, was of the view that determining the evidentiary value of the material submitted was a matter for the trial court. The Court also took note of the fact that the allegations against Teltumbde were of a serious nature since they were under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The UAPA, being a special law, enables the investigating authorities to deviate from the usual criminal investigation procedure. On this basis, Teltumbde’s petition was dismissed. However, the Court did allow him three weeks to approach the Supreme Court before the High Court Order becomes operational.