SC extends house arrest of rights activists till September 17

Petition termed the arrests as quelling the voices of dissent


The wife of lawyer Surendra Gadling, arrested in June in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence, accused the Maharashtra government of treating him like a “third-rate criminal.”

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta took offence to the allegation, saying such “pedestrian” language should not be used in the highest court in the country.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, for Minal Gadling, submitted that Mr. Gadling’s basic rights are violated in custody. He is not allowed to argue his own bail.

“He is a lawyer for 25 years and an expert in bail matters. He has represented Sai Baba and is treated like a third rate criminal… He wants to argue his case, but he cannot come out,” Mr. Grover submitted on Wednesday.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta reacted that “he (Gadling) is a lawyer… we should know our responsibilities.”

The exchange happened when a petition filed by noted historian Romila Thapar and four others, challenging the raids and arrests of rights activists, came up for hearing before a Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud.

The petition termed the arrests as the quelling of voices of dissent.

The Bench cut the exchange and adjourned the case to September 17 as senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, for Ms. Thapar and her co-petitioners, was engaged in another court.

The Bench meanwhile extended the house arrest of five rights activists arrested on August 28 till September 17. These five are poet Vara Vara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj, activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Gautam Navlakha.

The brief session saw the petitioners and the Maharashtra government spar over whether arrested persons could intervene in the top court directly.

Some of the arrested activists and their family, like in the case of Mr. Gadling, have intervened in Ms. Thapar’s petition, citing their right to be heard.

Mr. Mehta however said that activists have already moved the courts within their respective jurisdictions and cannot simultaneously approach the apex court. This would amount to seeking the same relief in multiple forums.

Mr. Gadling was arrested on June 6 along with Head of English Department of Nagpur University Shoma Sen, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, activists Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson.

Ms. Minal has alleged that her husband has been framed by the police.

“It is stated that all the five persons hold significant position in the society and have dedicated their lives for fighting social injustices. They are being targeted in this case for being voice of dissent, and for taking up battles against forces perpetrating injustice,” her plea said.

She has accused the police of harassment, due to which her husband was hospitalised.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising had submitted that the police officers were deliberately prejudicing the case against the activists by handing out “fabricated letters” to the media.

Earlier, Mr. Mehta had raised a “preliminary objection” against third parties like historian Romila Thapar and four others coming to the Supreme Court seeking relief for the five activists.

Mr. Mehta and senior advocate Harish Salve had persisted that the court should first examine whether “strangers” to the criminal proceedings against the five activists can challenge the State’s action performed in consonance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

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