Advocate Surendra Gadling and Activist Sudhir Dhawale, both accused of having maoist links and inciting the caste based violence that took place at Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 2018 have filed a writ petition challenging the order of transfer of investigation in the case from Pune police to the National Investigation Agency passed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
Petitioners who have been in prison for over two years have alleged that the Devendra Fadnavis led government and police administration at the time the violence took place, conveniently ignored the serious offences committed by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.
According to the petitioners, Sambhaji Bhide took out a rally of around 1000 to 1200 people on January 1, 2018 and assaulted dalits who had gathered to give tribute to the martyrs of the Bhima Koregaon battle.
Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote played key roles and acted in tandem with the State government led by Devendra Fadnavis in drawing up the nefarious plan of incarcerating all dalits rights activists in one go falsely implicating them in cases under UAPA painting them as 'urban naxals'.
Although multiple FIRs were registered across the State after the violence took place including FIRs filed at Shikrapur police station against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, State government withdrew prosecutions in most of the cases. But an FIR was registered on January 2 at the behest of Ramesh Damgude, a close associate of Milind Ekbote who alleged that insightful speeches were made at the Elgar Parishad event organised on January 1 which led to the caste based violence, petitioners contended.
Moreover, the petitioners have alleged that the BJP led government with its Hindutva agenda used the incident to target influential dalit thinkers by showing Elgar Parishad as part of the maoist movement.
The investigation was curiously transferred to Commissioner, Swargate Division, Pune and entrusted with persons very close to CM Devendra Fadnavis. Suhas Bawache, who previously threatened the petitioners with false charges was transferred as DCP, Pune City from Nagpur and was made part of the core investigation team.
Petitioners have made serious allegations against the investigating officer and Suhas Bawache-
"Without making any arrest or interrogation, the investigating officer Shivaji Pawar proceeded to add Section 120 B of IPC to the FIR. Thereafter, ACP, Swargate sought a search warrant against the petitioners and others accused in the case which was denied.
Then,on April 17, 2018, IO Shivaji Pawar and Suhas Bawache illegally conducted search and seizure at the residences of both the petitioners and others. The IO seized all digital and electronic devices without following due procedure and tampered the electronic gadget device to insert incriminating material"
In November 2019, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi coalition government led by CM Uddhav Thackeray came into power. A month later in December, the new government decided to form a Special Investigation Team to investigate the violence that took place on January 1, 2018. However, On January 24, 2020, the Central Government issued a notification transferring investigation in the case to the NIA.
Petitioners contend that the said transfer of investigation is not only malafide but a classic example of sheer abuse of the process of law and is nothing less than a fraud on the legislature.
Section 6 of the NIA Act stipulates two contingencies so as to exercise powers by the Central Government to direct investigation by NIA. Section 6(2) contemplates a situation when the State
Government files a report and on the basis of such report NIA investigation is ordered whereas Section 6(5) of the act contemplates a situation where Centre can direct suo-motu investigation by NIA.
"The Central government despite having specific knowledge that scheduled offences have been committed, way back in 2018, did not direct the investigation by NIA for more than one and a half years. On the contrary, it allowed State police to continue with the investigation and showed complete faith in it and defended the investigation by the State police machinery before the Supreme Court in a petition filed by historian Romila Thapar."
Thus, the only reason that prompted the Centre to transfer investigation to NIA is that the new state government intended to constitute a SIT to investigate the circumstances that led to the violence at Bhima Koregaon, petition states.
Petitioners are represented by Advocate Madhavi Ayyapan of Talekar Associates.