SC reserves order on SIT probe into activists’ arrest

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on a plea seeking court-monitored SIT probe into the charge that the five rights activists have links with banned outfit CPI (Maoist) and were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to kill leaders.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud reserved the order with senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi taking the court through the sequence of events, concluding that the entire case is cooked up.

Directing the Maharashtra police to submit the case diary, the court gave lawyers representing the petitioners historian Romila Thapar and social activist Maja Daruwala, five activists arrested in June this year and Maharashtra police to submit their written submissions by Saturday.

Thapar and Daruwala had moved the top court challenging the arrest of five activists on August 28, 2018.

Picking holes in the Maharashtra police investigation leading to the arrest of five activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha — Singhvi told the bench that when there is a real doubt about the credibility and sanctity of the probe, it should be entrusted to a Special Investigating Team (SIT).

Singhvi pointed out that there was no separate FIR on the alleged Maoist plot to kill dignitaries. He said that the aim of the entire exercise was to “create a climate of real threat”.

As senior counsel Harish Salve objected to Singhvi referring to three letters which were described by Maharashtra police as “explosive” and how it came to be in the possession of the petitioners, Singhvi said they (letters) were released by police commissioner in his press conference and were also available on the website of a TV channel.

Appearing for the complainant, senior counsel Harish Salve said the court has to decide where free speech ends and unlawful activities begin. “If unlawful activities are involved, the investigation must continue.”

Dwelling on the dangers of seeking court-monitored SIT probe every time, Salve said: “if they did not trust the CBI, NIA, who will they call? the FBI?”.

“There is a danger of embarking on the path of a SIT probe and say that only a retired judge of the top court could be trusted. People are framed day in and day out. Four tiers of courts are there,” Salve said pointing that all important cases end up in the top court.

Citing the trial in 2G cases where trial court judge exonerated the accused for want of evidence, Salve said if it was a case of no evidence, then trial court will free them.

Earlier concluding arguments for Maharashtra, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that there should be no interference in the criminal matter in the garb of PIL.