A criminal PIL has been questioning the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government’s decision to withdraw over 41 criminal cases registered against several persons, including Hindutva extremist Manohar Bhide, founder of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh full-timer, also known as Sambhaji Bhide. It is well documented by now that Bhide, along with Milind Ekbote, was one of the lynchpins of the large-scale violence and destruction which upper-caste groups wrought on Dalits and public property during the unrest that followed the Bhima Koregaon meeting in January last year. The PIL says, the government has selectively dropped the charges levelled against persons, who are either the supporters or workers of the ruling BJP.
The PIL has been filed by activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh through Advocate Nitin Satpute. He has challenged the decision of the government earlier this year to drop the charges against more than 2,300 persons, booked in 41 cases. He has claimed of the 41 cases, the government has wrongly dropped charges in 36 cases, mostly in favour of the Shiv Sena and BJP leaders.
Some of them are Shetkari Paksha MP Raju Shetty, former BJP and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Ghatge, Shiv Sena MLA Neelam Gorhe, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's PA Milind Narvekar, BJP MLA and CIDCO president Prashant Thakur, BJP MLA Vikas Mathkari, Shiv Sena leader Anil Rathod, Shiv Sena MLA Ajay Chaudhari, BJP MLA Dr Dilip Yalegaonkar and BJP MLA Ashish Deshmukh.
In his plea, Shaikh has said if the action by the government is legal, then similar treatment must be given to the common citizens who take part in peaceful protests, but are still maliciously booked by the government for exercising their fundamental right to dissent.
The government has relied on a notification, issued way back on 7/7 2010 (being पीआरओ 0110/प्र.क्र.214/विशा-2 d) for withdrawing criminal cases for participating in political or social movements. The notification empowers the government to withdraw cases filed on account of some or the other political and social actions like dharna, protest, etc. As per this resolution, the govt has resolved that the cases registered before 1/5/2010 and pending which are withdrawn on the following terms and condition as under…
- That there should not be loss of life
- There should not be Damage not more than 5,00,000/- to the public and private property
- If the damage value is less that Rs 5,00,000/- then if accused is ready to compensate those damage and loss to the state with approval of Committee formed by the Government
On 13/01/2015 and 14/3/2016, the state government had issued another Government Resolution (GR) in which, the State government had put all the conditions which are mentioned above for withdrawing of charges or cases, but in this GR, the state government had extended the time for withdrawing the cases. And in these GR, the government had just modified the last condition that it can drop the charges of the case which is registered before 1/11/2014, and kept all the other conditions as it is.
Shaikh has said that the present government has dropped total 41 cases from June 2017 to September 2018. “In the 36 cases, the sub-committee, which has decided to drop the cases, has violated the condition stated in the original notification. In fact, the sub-committee has no legal knowledge and is therefore incompetent to take such decisions,” and therefore, “Initiate legal action against the government and its authorities for their inaction to follow the procedure of law and who have flouted the rules and dropped charges against habitual criminals, who are booked for offences, which do not fall in the category of political or social offences,” the petition contends. The government has withdrawal 36 cases, with intention to save and protect the offender and which does not fall within the meaning of the Resolution dt 7/7/2010, due to allowing withdrawal of the such cases by Ld Magistrates/J.M.F.C [Judicial Magistrate First Class] without applying his mind, the state has suffered huge loss which is more that of Rs. 1,87,00, 000/- (Rs one crore eighty-seven lacs), Shaikh’s petition states.
The cases against Bhide
According to a report in Scroll.in, rioting charges were filed against Bhide and hundreds of workers of his political outfit for vandalising posters of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s film Jodhaa Akbar in February 2008. In the protests led by the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan after the release of the film, hundreds of activists tore down posters of the film, and shouted slogans outside a multiplex in Sangli, about 375 km from Mumbai. The protesters went on a rampage throwing stones at cops and damaging buses and vehicles, including a police van.
Bhide had then made provocative speeches about how the film distorted the history. While 25 youths were arrested for violating prohibitory orders, almost 100 injured protesters were admitted to local hospitals.
After the Bhima Koregaon meeting, a case was registered against Milind Ekbote, who heads the Hindu Ekta Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide, for allegedly “inciting” the violence that left one dead. Subsequent protests against the incident also crippled normal life in Maharashtra, especially in Pune and Bombay. The Maharashtra police in March had arrested Ekbote for inciting violence.
“At least six cases, registered against Bhide have been withdrawn. “Six cases were registered against Bhide and his associates owing to two protests—one against Bollywood film Jodha Akbar in 2008 and another against an artist for his depiction of the assassination of Shivaji in 2009. The protesters indulged in rioting, stone-pelting and burning of several tyres”, the petition states.
In the lines of this action, “[t]he government is biased as it is not treating equally, the persons, who are booked in the Bhima-Koregaon violcence case”.
“If the rule is to withdraw all social and political cases, then the same must be applied in all cases, but it is not applied to the victims of Bhima-Koregaon, wherein several cases have registered,” read the petition.
The PIL sought restoration of all such cases, withdrawn by the government. It also demands action against the subordinate judiciary for not applying its mind and conveniently allowing dropping of the charges, without adhering to the letter and spirit of Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Shaikh’s petition is likely to come up for hearing this week.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi, and specialises in reporting on legal, human rights and gender issues. He tweets @SauravDatta29. The views expressed are personal.