Law

SC Lawyer Arrested in Assam Over AASU Office Attack Probe

Ambika Ray was taken into custody for seeking “confidential information” through RTI from the SIT probing the case.

Supreme Court advocate Ambika Ray. Credit: Facebook

Supreme Court advocate Ambika Ray. Credit: Facebook

New Delhi: Ambika Ray, the Supreme Court lawyer for Subodh Biswas – the main accused in the March 6 Silapathar case in Assam, was arrested by the state police in Guwahati on June 8. Ray was arrested on the charge of “being not just Biswas’s lawyer but also [being] involved in the activities of the Nikhil Bharat Bengali Utbastu Samannay Samiti (NBBSS)”, the organisation which led the rally that allegedly got violent and thereafter attacked an office of the All Assam Students Union (AASU).

On March 6, NBBSS, a Nagpur-based Hindu Bengali organisation reported to have close ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – though the RSS prant pracharak Mahesh Sharma denied it on March17 in Silchar – organised an event in the Silapathar town of Assam’s Dhemaji district. The event was in support of granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis of Bangladesh origin residing in the state as per the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 tabled in the parliament by the Narendra Modi government. The event was addressed by several leaders of the NBBSS from Nagpur and Delhi, including Biswas, a Nagpur-based ayurvedic doctor and the organisation’s all India president.

Later, the organisers took out a rally through the town which reportedly went out of control. The mob broke the column erected in the AASU office in memory of those who died in the anti-Bangladeshi immigrant agitation of the 1980s besides damaging portraits of Assamese cultural icons Bhupen Hazarika and Jyoti Prasad Agarwala.

The attack led to a massive public outrage across the state, putting pressure on the state government to appoint a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of state CID SSP N. Rajamarthandan to probe the matter. The state police at once barred NBBSS from holding any meeting in the state, leading the organisation to change its name to Bengali Samaj Sangathan Samiti. Police chief Mukesh Sahay then told local media, “Investigation will also be made into the source of funding of the organisation.”

However, on April 7, Rajamarthandan was arrested by the state police on the charge of disclosing “confidential information” relating to the ongoing investigation to Biswas’s lawyer Ray through an RTI application. Ray, through RTI, sought a copy of the SIT report on the Silapathar incident to help Biswas get bail.

Arrested by a joint team of Assam and West Bengal police from the West Paraganas district of Bengal on March 22 along with another accused in the case, Biswas was thereafter presented in a lower court in Dhemaji, and had been denied bail a couple of times, thereby extending his judicial remand. He continues to be in jail in Dhemaji town along with many other accused in the case.

However, on June 12, Rajamarthandan was released on “default bail” (section 167-2 of CRPC) for the state police failing to file a chargesheet against him within the prescribed period of 60 or 90 days. On being denied bail earlier by the Gauhati high court, the 2008-batch IPS officer had moved the Supreme Court. However, his bail came before a vacation bench of the apex court took up the petition on June 19.

That the state police couldn’t file a chargesheet against Rajamarthandan showed that it couldn’t gather any proof against the officer within the stipulated time.

Giving details about Ray’s arrest, Pahari Konwar, the investigating officer of the case registered against Rajamarthandan, told The Wire on June 29, “Around May 16-17, we sent a notice under section 160 of IPC to Ambika Roy to come over to Guwahati to cooperate in the investigation regarding the RTI information. However, he didn’t. As the investigation progressed, we found that Ray is not just an advocate of Biswas but is also involved with the activities of NBBSS. There is more to it. Therefore, we issued a fresh notice to him under section 41A of the CRPC and summoned him to my office at 11 am on June 8.”

On June 8, Ray reached Guwahati. “It was not to appear at my office but to seek an anticipatory bail at the lower court here, which was denied. Later in the day, we took him into custody,” Konwar said.

On June 26, Ray’s fresh bail application was denied by a lower court in Guwahati. Ray is presently lodged at the Guwahati central jail.