Mumbai: Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, when passenger travel across states is still regulated, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) wants Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu M.T. to travel from Delhi to the agency’s Mumbai office. The NIA has served him a notice to be present at their South Mumbai office on July 15 as a “witness” in the Elgar Parishad case.
In the notice served through a local NIA officer in Delhi, the agency has said that, “It appears that you are acquainted with the circumstances of the case… You are hereby required to attend before the NIA.”
Although the notice says he has been summoned as a witness, the Pune police in September last year had raided his house and confiscated all electronic devices including his laptop and his mobile phone. The raid at Babu’s house was carried out without a warrant.
Along with being a teaching faculty member at Delhi University, Babu is also a vocal anti-caste crusader and an active member of the committee formed for the defence of G.N. Saibaba, a Delhi University professor who was convicted for his alleged links with the Maoist movement. Saibaba, who is over 90% disabled, is at present serving a life term at the Nagpur Central Jail. At the time of the raid, the Pune police had confiscated posters and campaign documents relating to the G.N. Saibaba Defence Committee, which has been fighting for his release. The police had also barred Babu’s access to his email and other social media accounts.
Babu told The Wire that he is concerned for his health and doesn’t feel confident to travel to Mumbai, which has the maximum cases of coronavirus infections. “I did share my concerns with the officer who visited my home. He said, I have no choice but to fly down to Mumbai on July 15,” Babu said.
On September 10 last year a police team of more than 12 officers had visited his residence in Noida and raided his house for close to six hours.
Similar raids have happened across the country at the residences of several rights and cultural activists, academics, lawyers and journalists.
Since 2018, the police have arrested 11 rights activists and lawyers from across the country. In 2018, under the BJP-ruled government, the local Pune police was assigned the investigation in the case. The police had then claimed different theories and had branded arrested persons as “urban Naxals”. Among several theories floated by the Pune police, those arrested were also accused of plotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assassination. This claim was made in a press conference, but strangely never investigated or made a part of the two bulky chargesheets filed in the case.
In December last year, as soon as the coalition government of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress took over, the case was swiftly taken away from the local police and handed over to the central agency, NIA.
The present tri-party government had earlier expressed concern over the sudden highjacking of the case by the central agency, but later changed its stance when chief minister Uddhav Thackeray consented to the Centre’s decision of handing the case over to the NIA.
Another person, a Hyderabad-based journalist named Kranthi Tekula, has also been served a notice and been asked to be present at the NIA’s office in Hyderabad. Tekula told The Wire that he was not home when the NIA officials visited his home. “I have not been served any notice but verbally informed over the phone that I should be in their (NIA) office on July 13,” he said.
This is the second time that the police have reached out to Tekula. A senior journalist in Telangana, Tekula was first approached by the Pune police in August 2018. The police had raided his house around the same time as it had raided poet and political activist Varavara Rao’s residence. While Rao was arrested, Tekula’s laptop and several other belongings were seized.
The police had left after the raid but Tekula says it cost him his job. “I was working with a state daily, Namasthe Telangana. The police came unannounced, and the raid was covered extensively in the media here. A day later, I was sacked from the job. Since then, I have been struggling to make ends meet. No media house is willing to hire me,” he said.
The NIA took over this case in December last year. Since then, they have arrested two persons – senior journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, and academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde. In all, 11 persons are in custody on charges of unlawful activities and conspiracy of participating in Naxal activities. Navlakha and Teltumbde’s arrest came after a long-drawn legal battle in both the lower and higher courts. Besides these arrests, the NIA has not done much work on the case. It is close to 180 days, and the agency is yet to file a supplementary chargesheet.
Besides Babu and Tekula, the NIA has also issued notices to three more cultural activists who will be visiting the NIA office on July 13. “It is virtually impossible to travel from out hometown to Mumbai right now. Our houses have already been raided and we have cooperated with the police in the past. They have taken away all that they needed with them. The NIA is being inconsiderate towards our health and safety,” one of them, who wished to stay anonymous, told The Wire.