“Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow dissent, the pressure valve of democracy will burst”, Justice Chandrachud observed during the hearing.
The Supreme Court bench of the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, Justice A.M.Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, was about to rise at 4.45 p.m. after hearing a couple of mentioning matters, when senior counsel, Abhishek Singhvi made a fervent plea to the bench to hear the petition of historian Romilla Thapar and four other eminent individuals, seeking its intervention to stay the arrests of five eminent social activists across the country.
Singhvi, while drawing the bench’s attention to the December 2017 Bhima Koregaon violence that broke out after the Elgar Parishad conclave of Dalits and Dalit activists to mark the 200th anniversary of the Koregaon, said that the FIR registered against the five social activists made no mention of Koregaon, despite the claims of the police. “They were not present at the incident”, Singhvi said, asking why the raids are taking place to harass the activists, eight months after that incident.
“You can’t have chilling effect, because I disagree with you”, said Singhvi, emphasising that it is an Article 32 petition, citing the arrest of five activists. “Ultimately, the spouses of these accused will join this petition”, Singhvi claimed, when the Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta questioned the locus standi of the petitioners, when two of the five accused are already before the high courts.
The petitioners are raising larger issues, by invoking Articles 19 and 21; the five accused were not physically present at Koregaon, Singhvi said.
At this stage, counsel Indira Jaising and Prashant Bhushan also made submissions. They underlined that if the transit remand is not stayed, their liberties will be jeopardised. “There should be a stay”, they said.
Mehta said the accused, who claim they are victimised, are availing legal remedies. Therefore, why stay arrests, he asked.
Singhvi said Mehta should not get panicky because the Apex Court is hearing the petition. Mehta denied that he was panicky.
When the bench expressed its doubts whether the five accused have been arrested, Singhvi said “at the risk of contempt, let me say that the five accused have been arrested”.
Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, told the bench that random arrests have taken place, of the well-known activists. Three of them are under custody, while two of them are under house-arrest, he said.
When Mehta or a counsel representing the Centre intervened to say something to justify action against the five activists, Justice Chandrachud was seen forcefully telling the Centre’s counsel by raising his voice, that dissent is the safety valve of a democracy; if it is crushed, the pressure will make it burst.
Singhvi was initially reluctant to agree to house arrest of the accused till Thursday next; but when Mehta persisted, and the judges on the bench were seen discussing their options, Singhvi didn’t oppose it and this was recorded by the bench in its order thus: “As an interim measure, he has no objection if this Court orders that Mr.Varavara Rao, Mr.Arun Ferreira and Mr.Vernon Gonsalves, if arrested, they are kept under house arrest at their own homes…The house arrest of Mr.Gautam Navalakha and Ms.Sudha Bharadwaj may be extended in terms of our orders.”
“Needless to say, an interim order is an interim order and all contentions are kept open”, the bench added in passing, as if to mollify concerns on the side of the petitioners, that the bench chose to order house arrests of the accused till the next hearing, thus curtailing their liberties for no reason.
The issue has genesis in the multiple arrests and raids carried out by Pune police yesterday in several cities. The activists were arrested for their alleged Maoist link triggerring Bhima-Koregaon violence in Pune on January 1, 2018.
Gautam Navlakha is a civil liberties activist, who had association with People’s Union for Democratic Rights. He is an editorial consultant of Economic and Political Weekly. His residence in Delhi was raided by Maharshtra police on August 28. The police arrested him and secured a transit remand from a Saket court to take him to Pune. The remand order was stayed by the Delhi High Court yesterday. Today, the bench of Justice Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel heard the matter in detail. After finishing hearing, the Delhi HC had started dictating order in the petition. Meanwhile, the SC passed the order in the petition filed by Romila Thapar and others. On knowing about the SC order, the Delhi HC bench halted the proceedings and posted the matter tomorrow to know about the contents of SC order.
Lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who is known for her trade-unionism and civil rights activism in Chattisgarh for almost three decades, was arrested from her house at Badarpur in Haryana yesterday. Immediately after her arrest, a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The HC ordered that she should be kept at her house till the Magistrate decided on the transit remand. The HC also directed that the Maigstrate should examine compliance of provision of Section 41 and 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the police before issuing transit remand. However, by the time the High Court order came, the Chief Judicial Magistrate Faridabad had granted transit remand of Bharadwaj to Maharashtra police. Following the HC directive, the CJM recalled the first order, and held that she should not be taken out of Haryana until August 30, on which date the HC is set to consider the habeas petition again.
Arun Ferreira is a Mumbai based activist, who was arrested in 2007 on suspected Maoist links. He was acquitted of all charges in 2014. He has written a prison memoir titled “Colours of Prison”, describing the torturous and inhuman treatment meted out to prison inmates. After his release from prison, Ferreira took law degree and enrolled as a lawyer, taking up cases of persons languishing in prisons without legal representation.
Mumbai-based Vernon Gonsalves was a social activist in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. He had earlier faced UAPA charges on suspected maoist links and was made accused in 20 cases. He was released in 2013 after serving sentence on conviction under UAPA.
Varavara Rao is an 78 year old Telugu poet. He is known for his poems calling for revolution by the workers’ class. He founded a group of revolutionary writers named “Virasam”. He had undergone imprisonment several times for his radical ideas.He was arrested in Hyderabad yesterday.