In a damning indictment of the central government’s attempt to curb dissent in a democratic set-up, the Supreme Court on Wednesday made a scathing observation while hearing the petitions against the arrests of noted activists.
Those arrested on Tuesday included Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, Sudha Bharadwaj in Haryana and Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonzalves in Maharashtra.
The bench consisting Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Lhanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud ordered that the arrested activists be kept in their respective house without police taking them in their custody. This was after well-known historian Romila Thapar filed a petition along with Devika Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala challenging the Tuesday arrests.
Though Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta questioned the locus standi of the petitioners, Chief Justice Misra rejected the argument by saying that ‘nomenclature of the petition does not matter.’
Mehta had argued that “strangers” could not seek relief for the arrested activists who had already approached the High Court. To this, Singhvi said Mehta should not get panicky because the Apex Court is hearing the petition. Mehta denied that he was panicky, according to a report by Livelaw website.
The most scathing observation came from Justice Chandrachud, who said, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst.” He also noted that the arrests had taken place nine months after the activists were linked to the violence at Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra.
Visibly peeved over the action of the Pune Police, Justice Chandrachud said, “Nine months after Koregoan incident you go and arrest these people.”
Telling Mehta that they will hear the matter, Justice Chandrachud, according to an IANS report, said “It is a larger issue as their concern is that you are quelling dissent.”
The court issued notice seeking a response from the Centre, Maharashtra and Haryana to the petition by Thapar and other activists and directed the next hearing on September 6.
Noting the submission by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi that in pursuance of the High Court Navlakha and Bharadwaj have been kept under house arrest and his suggestion that as an interim measure Varavara Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves, if arrested, too be kept under house arrest at their own home, the court said, “We order accordingly.”
The Pune Police on Tuesday had swooped on the houses of these activists before arresting them for their alleged links to Maoists triggering violence in Bhima-Karegaon in Pune in January this year.
What caused consternation inside the courtroom was the apprehension shown by two of India most prominent lawyers, who feared that they may be the next on the list of the government. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said that that one of the arrested lawyers was working in an organisation funded by him adding that by that measure he too could also be arrested, added IANS report. Another prominent lawyer,
Indira Jaising, said that five lawyers working with her were arrested in June and she may be the next.