Day 2 Arguments: 6th September, 2018
On 28th August, the Maharashtra Police arrested human rights activists under the suspicion of having Maoist links. The SC is hearing a public interest litigation calling for an independent investigation of the police’s actions. The petitioners claim that the police made serious procedural lapses and that, furthermore, they are violating the activists’ fundamental rights.
The three-judge bench of CJI Dipak Dipak Misra, Justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar began hearing the petition filed by Romila Thapar and others on behalf of five human rights activists arrested by the Maharashtra Police. In the last hearing, the court had intervened by sending them to house arrest instead of police remand.
Mr. Tushar Mehta appearing for the Union began by questioning the locus standi of the petitioners. In other words, Mr. Mehta was questioning how the petitioners could file the case on behalf of the activists. Recall that the petitioners are neither the activists themselves and nor are they related to the activists. Further, Mr. Mehta highlighted that the five arrested activists are already seeking legal remedy by approaching the High Courts. He argued that thereby the present writ petition by unrelated parties to the Supreme Court should not be entertained.
Justice Chandrachud intervened to point out that in the affidavits filed by the petitioner, the arrested activists want to be impleaded (made party) to the case. Ms. Indira Jaising, appearing for the petitioners, pointed out that that the wife of one of the arrested persons has also filed an impleadment motion. Ms. Jaising submitted that the wife further sought the Court’s permission to produce some additional documents pertaining to arrests of other activists made in June of this year.
Mr. Tushar Mehta reiterated that support for arrested persons cannot wipe away the lack of locus standi and urged the court to decide this question before going into the merits of the case.
At this point, CJI Dipak Misra addressed the petitioners’ lawyers. He observed that even if the petition was to be treated as one filed by the arrested persons, the next question would be the extent to which the Court could intervene in the matter. CJI Misra asked the petitioners about what kind of relief they sought. Ms. Jaising clarified that the petitioners do not seek to quash the First Incident Report, but rather that they seek to set up an independent investigation of the Maharashtra Police’s investigation.
Lastly, Ms. Indira Jaising requested the court to issue an injunction forbidding the police from releasing any further letters/reports concerning the arrests in question. She said that it goes against the principle of offering the accused a fair trial. The request was vehemently opposed by Mr. Tushar Mehta.
Justice Chandrachud took note of similar observations made by the High Court of Bombay and directed Mr. Tushar Mehta to ensure responsible behaviour on part of the Police. He expressed his displeasure with the way the Pune Police was releasing letters and statements to the press. He remarked that releases not only willed away the reputation of the individuals concerned, but also cast aspersions on the Court. The latter, he remarked, was impermissible while the Supreme Court was hearing the matter.
The next hearing is on 12th September. The activists will continue to remain under house arrest until then.
(Court reporting Ms. Disha Chaudhry)