Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought responses from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Central and Maharashtra governments on a petition filed by the two accused, Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale, challenging transfer of the Elgar Parishad case probe from the Pune police to the NIA.
A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and Abhay Ahuja directed the Union government, the NIA and the state government to file their affidavits, and posted the petition for further hearing on July 14.
The petition was filed by human rights lawyer Gadling and activist Dhawale, who are lodged in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
In their petition filed last week through advocate S B Talekar, Gadling and Dhawale had alleged that the transfer of the probe was done by the Central government, after the Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in Maharashtra and that the decision was "politically motivated".
"The transfer order is arbitrary, discriminatory, unjust and violative of the fundamental rights of the accusedpersons in the case," the petition said.
"The then BJP-led state government with Hindutva agency used the incident of violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune in December 2017- January 2018 to target influential Dalit thinkers by showing the Elgar Parishad meeting as part of a Maoist movement," the petition said.
It added that "political expediency" cannot be a ground to invoke powers of the NIA Act and transfer probe.
The petition further claimed that the NIA Act, 2008, does not permit transfer of a case after completion of investigation and commencement of trial, particularly when there are no compelling circumstances necessitating such a transfer.
The case, in which several other rights activists have been arrested and accused of having Maoist links, was transferred from the Pune police to the NIA on January 24 this year.
Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in June 2018 and are currently lodged at the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai. Apart from Gadling and Dhawale, the other arrested
accused include Rona Wilson, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj.
They have been accused of having Maoist links and were booked under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to prosecution, inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017 triggered caste violence at Koregaon Bhima the next day.
HC Puts Off Hearing on Sudha Bharadwaj's Bail Plea to Friday
The Bombay High Court will hear on Friday a bail application filed by lawyer activist Sudha Bharadwaj, an accused in the Elgar Parishad case.
Bharadwaj, who was arrested in August 2018, moved the HC last week against the order of the NIA court in Mumbai that rejected her interim bail plea on May 29.
The case was scheduled for hearing before a bench led by Justice S S Shinde on Tuesday but the hearing was adjourned to Friday as the NIA, prosecuting agency, was yet to be served a copy of the petition by Bharadwaj's lawyers.
The activist has sought bail on health grounds, citing high risk of the spread of coronavirus in prison.
Bharadwaj, 58, is currently lodged in Mumbai's Byculla Womens jail where an inmate had tested positive for coronavirus last month.
In her bail plea, Bharadwaj said she was diabetic and suffered from hypertension. These `comorbidities' (existing health conditions) put her in a high-risk category for contracting the infection, she said.
Social distancing in prison was nearly impossible due to overcrowding, hence she should be released on bail, the application said.