Next hearing in Supreme Court on arrest of the five people — Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves — is at 3.45pm.
New Delhi: A team of high-profile activists, including historian Romila Thapar, moved the Supreme Court Wednesday morning against the arrest of five activists by Pune police Tuesday for alleged Maoist links.
The arrests were part of a nationwide crackdown carried out in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence this January.
The legal team of the activists that moved the Supreme Court, seeking an urgent hearing, raised the matter before a Constitution bench.
The Chief Justice of India-led bench had gathered for a hearing on reservations in promotions, and asked Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who raised the matter, to present it before a regular bench at 3.45 pm Wednesday.
The arrests of the five activists for alleged Maoist links — Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao (Hyderabad), and activists Sudha Bharadwaj (Faridabad), Arun Ferreira (Mumbai), Gautam Navlakha (Delhi) and Vernon Gonsalves (Mumbai) — stoked outrage Tuesday as the opposition and activists labeled the exercise a crackdown on the government’s critics. The homes of four others were raided too.
Legal teams representing the activists kicked into high gear soon after the arrests, moving different high courts to seek respite.
While the Delhi High Court stayed the transit remand for Navlakha and placed him under house arrest until Wednesday, when the case is due to come up for hearing, Bharadwaj’s plea stoked a suspenseful turn of events where she was briefly reported to have gone under the radar while in the custody of Pune police.
Bharadwaj was placed under house arrest in the small hours of Wednesday after a bizarre midnight drama at the residence of a local judge.
Pune police arrested Bharadwaj from her Badarpur home in the morning. What followed were multiple twists as two courts weighed in on Pune police’s demand for her transit custody.
The Faridabad chief judicial magistrate granted police’s plea in an evening hearing at his house, minutes after the Punjab and Haryana High Court, approached by Bharadwaj’s team against the detention, adjourned the hearing on the case till Thursday.
Pune police then whisked Bharadwaj away from the CJM’s home, and took her to an unknown location, with acquaintances reportedly having little knowledge of her whereabouts.
Around midnight, Bharadwaj was seen held in a Toyota Innova stationed on a dimly lit road outside the house of the CJM in Sector 15A, Faridabad. CJM Ashok Kumar first summoned Pune and Surajkund police inside his residence without any lawyers present.
Initially, Bharadwaj’s lawyer Vrinda Grover was asked to make her submissions in the CJM’s driveway. After addressing the judge briefly, Grover sought permission to make her full submissions in an appropriate manner since the driveway was an inconvenient place to show any documents. The CJM agreed, and invited Grover inside, where she waited as Bharadwaj stayed outside in the vehicle.
After hearing the two sides, the CJM visited the district judge at his residence for advice on the matter. On his return, around 1 am, the CJM ordered Bharadwaj to remain under house arrest till 30 August, when the high court takes up the matter.
How the five activists are linked to the Elgaar Parishad, an event to commemorate Dalit participation in a British war against Marathas that was held in Pune on 31 December 2017, was not immediately clear.
According to a report in The Indian Express, it is believed that charges against the five stem from earlier arrests made in a case filed by a Pune resident accusing activists of peddling “provovative” content at the event, which was at the root of the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
The Delhi High Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court came to Navlakha and Bharadwaj’s rescue primarily on the grounds that the punchnama and seizure memo filed by police were in Marathi – a language neither activist knows. The Delhi High Court also noted that Pune police had failed to clarify the exact charge against Navlakha.
The searches conducted at the duo’s residences reportedly did not yield anything incriminating either.