Bhima-Koregaon case: Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira remanded in police custody till Nov 6

Activist Arun Ferreira (sitting inside the police car) being taken into police custody by Pune Police from his residence in Thane, Mumbai, on Friday, October 26, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Vibhav Birwatkar

A special court on Saturday directed activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves to be remanded in police custody till November 6. Both activists, who were taken into custody by the Pune police from their residences in Mumbai, were produced in the court on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, activist Sudha Bhardwaj was also taken into custody by Pune Police who had reached her Faridabad residence around midnight on Friday night. She was, however, taken into custody on Saturday around 1 p.m. after the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition filed by Romila Thapar and others against the court’s September 28 order.

Ms. Bhardwaj’s counsel Soutik Banerjee said she would be produced before the Pune Court by the police.

The Pune court had also, on Friday, rejected the bail pleas filed by Ms. Bhardwaj, Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Gonsalves. Mr. Banerjee said the rejection of Ms. Bhardwaj’s bail plea would be challenged in the high court.

The three activists were first arrested on August 28 along with poet-activist Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha for alleged Maoist links and their roles in the controversial ‘Elgaar Parishad’ and the subsequent Bhima-Koregaon clashes. They had been under house arrest since August 29.

The Supreme Court had, on September 28, given them four weeks time to seek legal remedies. That period ended on Friday.

The arguments

Earlier on Saturday, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar argued for a 14-day police custody of Mr. Gonsalves and Mr. Ferreira on grounds that they had been accused of receiving funds from the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) as well as allegedly recruiting cadres from prominent educational establishments like Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Jawaharlal Nehru University in a bid to spread Naxalism.

Activist Sudha Bhardwaj coming out of her Faridabad flat on Saturday, October 27, 2018 after the Pune Police took her into custody.

Activist Sudha Bhardwaj coming out of her Faridabad flat on Saturday, October 27, 2018 after the Pune Police took her into custody.   | Photo Credit: Ashok Kumar

Opposing their police custody, defence counsel Rahul Deshmukh argued that that the Pune police had failed to follow due legal process while taking custody of the activists after the expiry of their house arrest.

“Following their arrest on August 28, the house arrest period of the activists as directed by the Supreme Court’s order of August 29 has to be construed as ‘judicial custody’. Under section 43D of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA], the Pune police failed to file an affidavit seeking custody of the activists within 30 days of their arrest,” said advocate Deshmukh.

Citing the CBI v. Anupam Kulkarni case (1992) to buttress his arguments, advocate Deshmukh said that the police custody of the activists could only be given during the first 30 days of the initial remand following their arrest.

However, the prosecution argued that the SC’s house arrest period could not be interpreted as ‘judicial custody’.

Another defence lawyer, Siddharth Patil, submitted that the Pune police had allegedly committed contempt of the Supreme Court’s directive by taking the activists into custody before the full expiry of their house arrest period.

“The house arrest of the two activists was to end on October 26. As per SC guidelines, this period was to end at midnight. But the city police took the duo into custody before that,” Mr. Patil argued.

Following the conclusion of arguments, Special Judge K.D. Vadane remanded both Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Gonsalves to a 10-day police custody.

Activist Vernon Gonsalves arriving at his residence along with the police, in Pune. File

Activist Vernon Gonsalves arriving at his residence along with the police, in Pune. File   | Photo Credit: Prashant Waydande


Countrywide arrests

In its first countrywide swoop on June 6 in connection with the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ and the Bhima-Koregaon clashes, the city police had arrested activist Sudhir Dhawale, prominent human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, tribal activist Mahesh Raut, Nagpur University English Professor Shoma Sen and activist Rona Wilson.

All ten activists have been slapped with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act.

The Pune court, which has heard the bail pleas of Ms. Sen and advocate Gadling, is expected to pass the order on them on November 1.

The two sets of arrests by the Pune police in June and in August were based on an FIR registered at the city’s Vishrambaug Wada police station in connection with allegedly ‘‘provocative’’ speeches made during the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ held on December 31 last year — a day before clashes erupted in Bhima-Koregaon.

The FIR was based on a complaint by one Tushar Damgude against six participants, including Mr. Dhawale, of the Parishad. Those named in the FIR were members of the Kabir Kala Manch — a radical Dalit cultural troupe.

The complaint had accused the KKM activists of making a number of “inflammatory” speeches and delivering “socially divisive” presentations during the course of the troupe’s performance and recitals at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’, which lasted nearly eight hours and witnessed the participation of thousands from more than 250 social outfits, including several left-leaning and Ambedkarite groups across Maharashtra.

Several activists and intellectuals critical of the establishment have since alleged that the arrests were a diversionary move on part of the ruling government to protect the real perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon riots.

The Pune police have justified the arrests of the activists and the raids on their homes, alleging that they were part of a conspiracy destabilize the State and stating that the raids were part of a larger probe into the activities of proscribed outfits like the CPI (Maoist).

FIRs were lodged by the Pune Rural police against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote, who heads the fringe outfit Samasta Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’, founder of the right-wing Shiv Pratishthan, in the immediate aftermath of the Bhima-Koregaon riots of January 1 this year which left one person dead besides aggravating social tensions across Maharashtra.

While no move has been made to investigate Mr. Bhide, the Pune District and Sessions Court granted bail to Mr. Ekbote in April this year.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 11:15:20 AM |

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