'Dissent Is the Safety Valve of Democracy': SC Grants Relief to Arrested Activists

In an interim order, the Supreme Court said all contentions are to be kept alive and the case would be heard again on Thursday, September 6.

New Delhi: Hearing a plea against the arrest of five activists by the Maharashtra police on Tuesday, the Supreme Court Wednesday ordered all the arrested activists to be kept under house arrest at their own homes until September 6, under police watch. In an interim order, the court said all contentions are to be kept alive. The case would be heard again on Thursday.

In the course of an animated hearing that saw government counsel vigorously opposing the plea for relief, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud noted that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If not allowed, the safety valve will burst.”

The petition on behalf of the arrested activists – filed by historian Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala – was mentioned for urgent hearing before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and heard eventually by a bench comprising the CJI, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The bench granted temporary relief to the five activists – Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves – and directed the Maharashtra government to file a response to the petition challenging their arrest.

As the hearings began, counsel for Maharashtra raised the issue of maintainability of the plea, saying a “stranger” cannot seek relief for the activists who have already approached the high courts.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners told the bench that extraordinary circumstances have cropped up due to the Maharashtra police action of arresting several human rights activists.

The petitioners sought independent investigation into the arrest of human rights activists and their immediate release.

They also urged the apex court to thoroughly scrutinise and investigate the ‘false charges’ slapped against the human right activists.

Gonsalves, Rao and Ferreira were produced at a court in Pune. “This is a false case that has been created,” Gonsalves told reporters outside the court.

The activists alleged the arrest was an attempt to muzzle the voice of dissent.

The NHRC also took suo motu cognisance of the arrests and said in a statement that media reports suggest the Maharashtra police did not follow standard operating procedure, “which may amount to violation of their human rights”.

The Supreme Court order is available below: