Bhima Koregaon Arrests Under UAPA
Romila Thapar v Union of India
The Court evaluated the arrests of five human rights activists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the Maharashtra Police and allowed the investigation to continue. The Police accused the activists of involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence and sedition.
Petitioner: Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande, Maja Dharuwala
Lawyers: Mr. AM Singhvi; Mr. Prashant Bhushan; Ms. Indira Jaising; Mr. Rajeev Dhavan
Respondent: Union of India, State of Maharashtra
Lawyers: ASG Tushar Mehta; ASG Maninder Singh
Case Number: WP (Crl.) 260-261/2018
Last Updated: August 10, 2022
Whether the arrests are malafide and arbitrary as none of the individuals were named in the First Information Report nor is there any evidence they were present at Bhima Koregaon site?
Do these arrests made under the UAPA have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19?
Whether the use of the UAPA, an anti-terror law against citizens who have no history of violence, is malafide and goes against the core tenet of ‘Rule of Law’?
Whether the Police, in making the arrests via the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, violated the fundamental rights of the activists under Articles 14 and 21?
On August 28th 2018, the Maharashtra Police had carried out simultaneous raids across different parts of India, resulting in the arrest of five activists: Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navalakha, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira. The Maharashtra Police alleged that the activists were responsible for the Elgar Parishad, an event which was held to celebrate 200 hundred years of the battle of Koregaon Bhima, in January 2018. According to the police, the Parishad triggered the Bhima Koregaon violence. The Police further claimed that the activists are members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned organisation.
On August 29th 2018, five eminent citizens—Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala—submitted a joint petition to the Supreme Court challenging the arbitrary arrests of the August arrestees.
The petitioners contended that the Police violated the activists’ rights to equality (Article 14), free expression (Article 19) and personal liberty (Article 21). They argued that the arrests were arbitrarily made to curb dissent. They emphasised that the activists had been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). Further, they claimed that the Maharashtra Police had made serious procedural lapses during the raids.
Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, urgently raised the matter on the morning of August 29th. Notably, the Court decided to hear the matter on the same day that it was filed.
A second petition relating to similar June arrests was tagged to this case. On June 7th, the Maharashtra Police arrested Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale. An intervention application was filed on behalf of these five activists.
The petitioners requested the Court to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to:
(a) monitor the Maharashtra Police’s investigation, and/or
(b) conduct an independent investigation
On September 28th 2018, the Court delivered its Judgment. A 2:1 majority allowed the Maharashtra Police’s investigation to continue. The Court held that the accused are not entitled to demand a specific mode of investigation. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar on behalf of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and himself wrote the majority opinion. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud authored the dissenting opinion and suggested the appointment of an SIT.