New Delhi: As the Supreme Court’s one-week period to surrender comes to an end on April 14, the arrest of social activists and intellectuals Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha in the Elgar Parishad case is now inevitable. The two, if arrested, will join the nine other human rights activists and lawyers languishing in Maharashtra’s jails for close to two years.
Both Teltumbde and Navlakha have been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly instigating violence at the gathering at Bhima Koregaon, 30 kilometres north-east of Pune on January 1, 2018. The case was earlier handled by the Pune police and in December, last year, the National Investigating Agency took over the investigations.
Responding to the impending arrests, historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociologist Satish Deshpande and legal expert Maja Daruwala have now written a letter to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, seeking his urgent intervention into the matter.
Thapar, along with others, had earlier moved the Supreme Court in September 2018, to stop the harassment and arrests of rights activists in the Elgar Parishad case.
In their recent letter, Thapar and others have appealed to the CJI to “restore public confidence in our constitution and the civil liberties that it guarantees to all citizens.”
They have pointed out that the prosecution has already had more than enough time to make its case. “The highest court of the land cannot allow the process to become punishment. Under your leadership, the Supreme Court should act decisively to demonstrate that it is indeed the defender of people’s rights and the upholder of the Constitution,” the letter states.
The entire text of the letter has been reproduced below with minor edits for clarity and style.
We are the petitioners who had approached the Supreme Court regarding the so-called ‘Bhima-Koregaon case’ in September 2018 (Romila Thapar & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition 32319 of 2018).
While numerous arrests had already been made in this case, we became concerned enough to intervene when warrants were issued on August 28, 2018 for the arrest of Varavara Rao, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha. These persons are well known public intellectuals, writers, lawyers, human rights activists, scholars and journalists.
Our petition requested that the Supreme Court enable the appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and supervise the enquiry into the allegations made by the Pune police in order to ensure that it is speedy, impartial and credible. The Supreme Court declined our petition by a 2-1 majority decision because it was “of the considered opinion that the investigation of the offence in question is at a nascent stage” and that, therefore, it did not wish to discuss the merits of the case “lest any prejudice is caused to any accused or the prosecution, in any manner”.
However, the minority judgement agreed with us on “the need to have an independent investigation” and suggested the appointment of a SIT. Even the majority judgement agreed to extend the time given to the accused to seek legal remedies by a further four weeks.
But till today, 18 long months later, media reports indicate that the prosecution has failed to produce any new facts or evidence at the ongoing trial. Despite this, not only have the accused been denied bail and deprived of their liberty for an unjustifiably long period, but two new names have also been added to their ranks. The Supreme Court has declined to grant bail to Anand Teltumbde (professor of management, writer and intellectual) and Gautam Navlakha (writer and journalist), and ordered them to surrender to the Maharashtra police in one week.
Like all fair-minded citizens, we are shocked that the prosecution has not been held accountable to the spirit of the law. We are anguished that our courts have condoned the continued imprisonment of those who have dared to defend the rights of voiceless and marginalised people, and are now allowing this vindictive campaign to be expanded. This is especially inhuman and incomprehensible at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening our overcrowded jails.
We appeal to you to restore public confidence in our Constitution and the civil liberties that it guarantees to all citizens. The prosecution has already had more than enough time to make its case. The highest court of the land cannot allow the process to become punishment. Under your leadership, the Supreme Court should act decisively to demonstrate that it is indeed the defender of people’s rights and the upholder of the Constitution.
We look forward to your positive intervention in this matter.
With respectful regards,