House arrest extended

The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended till September 17 the house arrest of five civil liberties activists held for alleged links with Maoists and the Bhima-Koregaon violence in which one person was killed.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 13.09.18
  •  
Sudha Bhardwaj

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended till September 17 the house arrest of five civil liberties activists held for alleged links with Maoists and the Bhima-Koregaon violence in which one person was killed.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud passed the direction amid a spat between additional solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra government, and senior advocate Anand Grover, representing Surendra Gadling, another civil liberties activist and advocate arrested earlier.

The court adjourned the matter till next Monday on a request from advocates appearing for historian Romila Thapar and other civil liberties activists who had earlier challenged the arrests of Vara Vara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navalakha as being illegal.

The request for adjournment was made on the ground that senior advocate Abhishekh Manu Singhvi, appearing for Thapar, was busy arguing in another court.

During Wednesday's hearing, senior advocate Grover accused the Maharashtra government of treating civil liberties activists like "third-rate criminals". He told the court that Gadling had no link with Maoists, but was arrested on June 6 on false and frivolous charges. According to Grover, Gadling is a highly respectable lawyer with 25 years' experience in bail-related matters.

Grover said Gadling had earlier appeared for physically challenged civil liberties activist and Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, arrested in 2016 for alleged links with Maoists. "At that time he was warned that next you are our target," the senior counsel said.

Mehta objected to the remark, saying such "baseless allegations" could not be made without any substance.

"When a lawyer is arrested, we know our responsibility," the additional solicitor-general said, prompting Grover to retort: "No you don't, you don't know. You (the state) have treated him like a third-rate criminal."

Chief Justice Misra cut short the argument and said in an order: "As prayed for by learned counsel for the petitioners, let the matter be listed on 17.9.2018. The interim order passed on earlier occasion shall continue to operate till then."

In a sworn affidavit in September, the Maharashtra government had told the apex court that documents seized from the five arrested civil liberties activists not only revealed that they were active CPI (Maoists) members, but also reflected a "sinister design" to destabilise the society through criminal offences.

The Maharashtra government had rejected the charge that it was suppressing dissent.