On April 10, prominent citizens of the country including historian Romila Thapar, Prof Prabhat Patnaik and others have written an open letter to the Chief Justice of India demanding it's intervention in the case related to refusal of bail to social activist Gautam Navlakha and Prof Anand Teltumbde in the Bhima Koregaon violence. The signatories of this letter had, earlier in 2018, approached the Supreme Court through a petition demanding the apex court's intervention and appointment of Special Investigation Team (SIT) when arrest warrants were issued against prominent public intellectuals and activists such Varavara Rao, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha.
The letter appeals to the CJI that "under his leadership, the Supreme Court should act decisively to demonstrate that it is indeed the defender of people’s rights and the upholder of the Constitution."
The letter states that even though the SC had declined their petition by a 2-1 majority decision, the minority judgement had agreed with the petitioners on “the need to have an independent investigation” and had also suggested the appointment of SIT. They add that, however, even after 18 months, despite the prosecution reportedly "failing to produce any new facts or evidence at the ongoing trial, not only have the accused been denied bail and deprived of their liberty for an unjustifiably long period, but two new names have also been added to their ranks."
The letter also expresses their "anguish at this continued imprisonment of those who have dared to defend the rights of voiceless and marginalised people, and are now allowing this vindictive campaign to be expanded" with Navlakha and Teltumbde being asked to surrender in one week. It also highlights the fact that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect in the country's overcrowded jails, such an order is especially inhuman.
The complete letter is given below.
Respected Chief Justice of India,
We are the petitioners who had approached the Supreme Court regarding the so-called ‘Bhima-Koregaon case’ in September 2018 (Romila Thapar & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition 32319 of 2018). While numerous arrests had already been made in this case, we became concerned enough to intervene when warrants were issued on 28th August, 2018 for the arrest of Varavara Rao, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha. These persons are well known public intellectuals, writers, lawyers, human rights activists, scholars and journalists.
Our petition requested that the Supreme Court enable the appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and supervise the enquiry into the allegations made by the Pune police in order to ensure that it is speedy, impartial and credible. The Supreme Court declined our petition by a 2-1 majority decision because it was “of the considered opinion that the investigation of the offence in question is at a nascent stage” and that, therefore, it did not wish to discuss the merits of the case “lest any prejudice is caused to any accused or the prosecution, in any manner”.
However, the minority judgement agreed with us on “the need to have an independent investigation” and suggested the appointment of a SIT. Even the majority judgement agreed to extend the time given to the accused to seek legal remedies by a further four weeks.
But till today, eighteen long months later, media reports indicate that the prosecution has failed to produce any new facts or evidence at the ongoing trial. Despite this, not only have the accused been denied bail and deprived of their liberty for an unjustifiably long period, but two new names have also been added to their ranks. The Supreme Court has declined to grant bail to Anand Teltumbde (Professor of Management, writer and intellectual) and Gautam Navlakha (writer and journalist), and ordered them to surrender to the Maharashtra police* in one week.
Like all fair-minded citizens, we are shocked that the prosecution has not been held accountable to the spirit of the law. We are anguished that our courts have condoned the continued imprisonment of those who have dared to defend the rights of voiceless and marginalised people, and are now allowing this vindictive campaign to be expanded. This is especially inhuman and incomprehensible at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening our overcrowded jails.
We appeal to you to restore public confidence in our Constitution and the civil liberties that it guarantees to all citizens. The prosecution has already had more than enough time to make its case. The highest court of the land cannot allow the process to become punishment. Under your leadership, the Supreme Court should act decisively to demonstrate that it is indeed the defender of people’s rights and the upholder of the Constitution.
We look forward to your positive intervention in this matter.
With respectful regards,
Sent on behalf of the petitioners by Prabhat Patnaik
*NewsClick Correction: They have been asked to surrender before the the National Investigation Agency (NIA)