Bhima Koregaon: Judgment Summary

Bhima Koregaon Arrests Under UAPA

On September 28th 2018, a 3-Judge Bench of  the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud delivered a split decision in the Bhima Koregaon Case. Justice Khanwilkar delivered the majority opinion on behalf of himself and CJI Misra. Justice Chandrachud authored the dissenting opinion. 

On 29th August 2018,five eminent personalities—Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala—filed a writ petition challenging the arrests of five well known human right activists—Gautam Navalakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves—under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). They were accused of inciting the Bhima Koregaon violence and having links with the banned terrorist organisation, Communist Party of India (Maoist). The petition prayed for the release of the accused and the appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for further inquiry. 

The petitioners argued that the arrests were made arbitrarily and without sufficient evidence. None of the accused were present at Elgar Parishad—the event that instigated the Bhima Koregaon violence. They claimed that the accused were human rights activists who had dissented against the government in the past and that such arrests would have a chilling effect on the minds of other activists. 

The respondents argued that the petitioners had no involvement in the arrests and should not question it. The Pune police filed a counter affidavit stating that they retrieved material from the computers, laptops, memory cards and pen drive of the accused that contained information on a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of India. However, the petitioners claimed it was false propaganda to influence public opinion. 

Justice A.M. Khanwilkar’s Opinion

Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, writing on behalf of CJI Dipak Misra and himself, delivered the majority opinion. Justice Khanwilkar allowed the Pune police to continue their investigation as per law. He noted that the accused had confirmed the current writ petitions to be treated as their own petition—making them a party to the petition. 

As the accused were also made a party, the plea to form an SIT was dismissed—as no accused is entitled to demand an investigation process of their own or choose their investigation agency. On the questions of bail and forensic analysis of the electronic evidence, the majority ruled that the accused must approach the appropriate Court. 

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s Opinion

Justice Chandrachud, in his dissenting opinion, raised concerns on the investigation conducted by the Pune Police. He questioned the Pune Police’s conduct in approaching the media while the investigation was still underway. According to him, the selective disclosure of details by the police to the media created public bias against the accused and cast doubts on the impartiality of the investigation—therefore, necessitating the need for an SIT.