Why Laws Were Flouted While Arresting Five Activists, Bombay HC Questions Pune Police
Maharashtra police conducted a series of raids across the country, on August 28. Houses of prominent activists, lawyers and writers were raided by the Pune police in Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Goa and Hyderabad. By the end of the day, five prominent activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira had been arrested on a myriad of charges. While conducting the raids, the Maharashtra police flouted many laws, says Delhi High Court. There has been a series of questions on “why did the police conduct a press conference when the matter is sub-judice”, also “why the witnesses were brought by the police from Pune to sign the panchnama” are among the few fallacies by the police.
Hold press conferences unlawfully
According to The Firstpost, on September 3, the Bombay High Court pulled up the Maharashtra Police for holding a press conference on the arrest of five activists right after they conducted the raids. The court said, “How can the police hold a press conference when the matter is sub-judice?”
“How can the police do this? The matter is sub-judice. The Supreme Court is seized of the matter. In such cases, revealing information pertaining to the case is wrong,” said Justice Bhatkar, reports NDTV.
The criticism came when the court was hearing a writ petition filed by an activist and the one who claims to be the victim of January 1, Bhima-Koregaon incident. Condemning the Pune police act, the petitioner said the police, on the one hand, wants an in-camera hearing (Private) while on the other side, they are holding a press conference and reading out the evidence in the form of “activist’s letters” in public. The petitioner has moved the High Court seeking to restrain the Pune Police from further probing the case and has also said that the case should be handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), reported Free Press Journal.
However, the Maharashtra police in its defence said they had substantial evidence including “thousands of documents and letters” that proves the activists’ links to Maoists and their role in facilitating weapons and funding.
Pune police took the witnesses along with them
On August 29, a day after the coordinated raids and arrest, the Delhi High Court grilled the Pune Police. The bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, while hearing a habeas corpus filed by Navlakha’s advocate, questioned the police saying “Why should witnesses come from Pune?”
“A witness should either be family members or respectable members of the locality, it can’t be someone who accompanies the police,” said Muralidhar, as reported by the Scroll.
The Pune Police has violated the law by taking the witness among them. Under Section 41B of the criminal procedure code states that the panchnamas or memorandum of arrest must be signed by “a member of the family of the person arrested or a respectable member of the locality where the arrest is made.”
Among the witnesses that were taken by the Pune police to six different cities was a peon in the municipal corporation, a technician, working in a government hospital and a medical college clerk. These witness accompanied by the police have signed off the Panchanama as the witness for the raid and arrest if the activist.
While speaking to the Scroll, the two witnesses – both junior government employees said that the Pune police had written to their offices, asking for them to be sent. They also said that they have signed panchnamas before as well but only in their cities. It was the first time for the “witnesses” that they were taken to another city to sign.
Facing the criticism from the court, the police defended its action to take the witness with them, the police said, “In Maharashtra, there is a practice that whenever raids are to be conducted within or outside the state, a government servant is taken along. A government servant has some sort of accountability and the ability to understand certain procedures,” said the joint commissioner of Pune police, Shivaji Bodakhe.
However, a criminal lawyer, Kamini Jaiswal dismissed these claims saying, “That is only done when the cops are trapping people in a case where they have to create decoy witnesses.”
The Marathi panchnama
The court had also asked the police “why arrest documents in Marathi were not translated for activist Gautam Navlakha, who does not understand the language?” Live Law reported.
Gautam Navlakha, the activist who is among the arrested and KV Kurmanath, activist Varvara Rao’s son-in-law and journalist recorded this in writing saying, “Signing under protest as language is not legible,” Navlakha wrote at the bottom of the panchnama.
Reportedly, the searches and detentions carried out by the Maharashtra police were under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Sections 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120(b) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the Supreme Court has ordered the Pune police to place the activists under house arrest in their own homes till September 6.
While the arrested people are being termed as “Urban Naxals” by some, many others have condemned the move and have called it a “virtual declaration of Emergency.”