SC orders house arrest for 5 activists, says dissent a safety valve of democracy

The Supreme Court today halted the Pune Police’s bid for immediate custody of five activists arrested on Tuesday. The Supreme Court ordered that the five activists will be kept under house arrest till September 6.

P Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested from multiple locations across India by the Maharashtra Police.

The arrests were made in connection with the department’s investigation of suspected Maoist links to an event — Elgar Parishad — held in Pune on December 31 last year, which allegedly triggered the Bhima-Koregaon violence.

Shortly after the order of the SC bench, headed by CJI Dipak Misra, the Pune Police was directed to send the arrested activists back to their houses.

Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were taken to Pune yesterday, while Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha were confined to their residences in Faridabad and Delhi respectively.

SUPREME COURT HEARING

All eyes were on the Supreme Court after it agreed to an urgent hearing of a plea filed by historian Romila Thapar and four other human rights activists.

The Pune Police claimed that it had the evidence suggesting that the five were involved in hatching a plot to target the “highest political functionaries”.

The Supreme Court questioned the state police’s move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said that all of them were reputed citizens and “stifling the dissent” was not good.

“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you don’t allow these safety valves, it will burst,” the bench said.

The court asked the Maharashtra state government and the state police to submit their responses on the plea.

Issuing notice to the Maharashtra government and its police, the bench considered the submissions of senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners, that the arrested activists be kept under house arrest.

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Singhvi said that two of the five arrested persons — Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha – were already under house arrest following the orders passed by two high courts while the three others were on transit remand.

Singhvi said as an interim measure, all the five should be kept under “house arrest in their own homes”.

The plea was accepted by the bench which, however, said that all the contentions of the parties would be kept open.

Singhvi said that the nationwide raids and the arrests made by Maharashtra Police after nine months of registration of the FIR have had a “chilling effect” on the personal life and liberty of citizens having a dissenting voice.