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Arrests of activists: Cannot stifle liberty on the altar of conjectures, says Supreme Court



Arrests of activists: Cannot stifle liberty on the altar of conjectures, says Supreme Court

Liberty of people cannot be curtailed on mere conjectures, said the Supreme Court on Wednesday, September 19, as it resumed hearing on the petition filed by Romila Thapar and four other eminent citizens challenging the controversial arrests of five civil liberties activists by the Maharashtra police on August 28.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said that those at the helm of institutions may not like everything that is said about them, but that cannot be a ground for stifling them. Our institutions should be robust enough to accommodate dissent, said the bench.

The activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha – continue to be under house arrest as per interim orders of the apex court that were issued on August 29, preventing Maharashtra Police from taking them away. The SC extended the house arrest by another day. The hearing will continue tomorrow.

The bench emphasised upon a need to have a distinction between dissenting views and subverting law and order.

“We cannot stifle liberty on the altar of conjectures. We will look at all these attempts with the hawk’s eyes,” said Justice DY Chandrachud.

“Our institutions should be robust enough when there is an opposition to the system or even to this court. Then there has to be something different to constitute subversion of law and order as far as elected government is concerned,” observed Justice Chandrachud.

He added, “We may not like it but we must also accept there could be dissent… Let us make a clear-cut distinction between an opposition and attempts to create disturbance, overthrow government etc.”

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners, began his submissions by questioning the veracity of the evidence cited by the prosecution to justify the arrest of the five activists. The documents in question were letters reportedly recovered by the Maharashtra police during its probe into the January 1 Bhima Koregaon communal clashes which allegedly point towards a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, allegations of the involvement of the five arrested activists in the said plot and their alleged links with banned organization CPI (Maoists).

“Eight months after the Elgar Parishad (the January 1 event in Bhima Koregaon, Pune, that preceded the communal clashes between members of the scheduled caste community and Upper class Marathas), the present detenues were arrested… it is undisputed that none of these five activists were associated with the organisation of the event… they were not even present there…as for the allegation regarding the scheme to attack the office of the Prime Minister on the line of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, no FIR has been registered (sic). The state itself is not taking the claim seriously,” Singhvi argued.

Singhvi also rubbished the prosecution’s charge that those arrested had a past criminal record. He said that while Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha have no criminal cases registered against them, of the 25 and 11 cases filed against, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira respectively, the duo had been acquitted in all. He added that though 19 cases were registered against Vernon Gonsalves, he had been acquitted in 17 while his discharge was pending in one case and an appeal was pending in another.

The counsel for the petitioners then went on to demolish the purported evidence that averred to a plot to assassinate the prime minister and the involvement of the arrested activists in the scheme. Stating that 13 letters had been leaked into the public domain, seven of which point towards the alleged assassination plot, Singhvi said that these letters are purported to have been exchanged between one Comrade Prakash and the five accused. Asserting that these letters are “fabricated”, have not been forensically examined and do not find a mention in any of the FIRs or remand applications linked with the arrests of the five activists, Singhvi placed reliance on the conviction order of Delhi University professor GN Saibaba by a sessions court which records a finding that states that Comrade Prakash is actually Saibaba himself. Singhvi then went on to say that while Saibaba has been in jail since March 2017, the contentious letters in question have all been written in subsequent months and were in fact recovered from the computer of a third party.

Singhvi then reiterated the plea of his clients – Romila Thapar, Maja Daruwala, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Pattnaik and Satish Deshpande – for a court-ordered special investigation team to look into the case filed against the five activists. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta objected to the request stating once again that the petitioners are “strangers” and “have no locus” in the criminal proceedings against those arrested. Singhvi, however, rebutted Mehta’s contention citing several instances where the Supreme Court had used its powers under Article 32 to order a SIT probe in important cases.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for five activists – Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale – who had been arrested in June this year on similar charges of organizing the Elgar Parishad, inciting communal clashes and being Maoists, began his submissions after Singhvi. Stating that he agreed with the arguments advanced by Singhvi, Grover added that the FIR filed against the activists was illegal as a FIR had originally been registered in the Bhima Koregaon case on January 4 and a second FIR on the same issue could be filed as per established directions of the Supreme Court.

Grover pointed at several procedural lapses and misgivings on part of the Maharashtra police in the raids it conducted against the arrested activists and said that only an independent investigation in case, ordered by the Supreme Court, could establish the truth.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan also questioned the arrests and asked the bench “since when has providing legal aid to any group become the basis of registering an FIR against the person (a reference to the cases against Bhardwaj and others)”.

ASG Tushar Mehta, who is representing the Maharashtra government in the case, sought to rebut the arguments made by the counsels for the petitioners and the arrested activists by stating that there was “cogent material” available against the accused. He said that the arrests were conducted “subsequent to careful investigation over six months” and that the entire procedure was executed with “diligence and under the purview of judicial scope”. He also submitted to the bench the case diary and a sealed envelope which reportedly contained the material found by the Maharashtra police during the search and seizure operations against the activists.

When Mehta contended that the activists had regular communication with Maoists and were found to be in possession of Maoist literature, Justice Chandrachud questioned him saying: “many universities send their students for research in Naxal areas and on naxalites, others go there for research purposes too… does that make all of them part of banned naxal organizations?”

Chief Justice Dipak Misra too told ASG Mehta to submit the “best document” (of evidence) that he has against the accused persons.

While Mehta continued to claim that the Maharashtra police had not erred in the arrests of the activists, Justice Chandrachud remarked: “liberty cannot be subjected to conjectures… there has to be a distinction between the opposition and over throwing of a government by Constitutionally impermissible methods.”

After Justice Chandrachud made these remarks, Mehta pointed out that it is also important to see who is the person making the statements.

“Dissent is fine but it is also important who is saying it. If the leader of a banned outfit says it, this will have a different connotation,” said the ASG.

Senior lawyer Harish Salve, who represents the informant of the FIR in this case, also supported this view.

He said, “There must be a distinction between a dissenting view and a criminal act. One may say out of anger that I will burn the Constitution because it has proved to be unfair to certain class. But it is equally important to see who is saying it, what are you saying and where are you saying it.”

It was at this point that Justice Chandrachud retorted that liberty can’t be choked on mere conjectures.

On Monday, the court had said it will quash the case against the five arrested activists if the evidence against them is “cooked up” by the Maharashtra police in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.

Simultaneous raids had targeted the residences of prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in New Delhi.

Rao, Bharadwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

Subsequently, a writ petition was filed in the top court by noted historian Romila Thapar and four other eminent individuals, contending the arrest of the activists was an instance of punishing dissent and difference of opinion.

As an interim reprieve, the bench had said the activists will be placed under house arrest and will not be jailed.

The arguments in the case are expected to continue on Thursday and the interim orders of house arrest of the five activists will continue in force until further orders of the court.

India News

Voting for Telangana elections ends with 64% voter turnout till 5pm

The voting percentage increased steadily with about 9% recorded in the first two hours, increasing to 20% by 11 am. The voter turnout exceeded 35% by 1pm and 50% by 3pm. About 3.26 crore registered voters cast their votes at 35,655 polling booths sealing the fate of 2,990 candidates in fray.



The voter turnout during Telangana Assembly elections on Thursday was at 64% till 5pm as per the data shared by the Election Commision of India. The polling started at 7am on all 119 constituencies across the state and ended at 5pm on 106 seats. For the 13 seats affected by Left Wing Extremisim, elections concluded at 4pm.

The voting percentage increased steadily with about 9% recorded in the first two hours, increasing to 20% by 11 am. The voter turnout exceeded 35% by 1pm and 50% by 3pm. About 3.26 crore registered voters cast their votes at 35,655 polling booths sealing the fate of 2,990 candidates in fray. The polling percentage is likely to increase as many people were in line by 5pm in the polling stations. The polling was brisk in districts like Medak, Mulugu, Nirmal, Adilabad whereas it was low in Hyderabad district.

During the elections Telangana BJP president and Union Minister G Kishan Reddy wrote a letter to the Election Commission of India. He alleged the workers and candidates of ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti are involved in electoral malpractices. Reddy wrote BRS people are working in groups of 100 – 200 people around polling stations and the police did not take any action on the same.

The letter read the Police and other officials instead of taking action against such incidents, is allowing the BRS workers to attack the BJP workers. Earlier Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, state BJP president G Kishan Reddy, BRS working president KT Rama Rao, his sister and MLC K Kavitha, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi cast their votes.

Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya and Tripura Governor Indrasena Reddy were important personalities who cast their vote in Hyderabad. The ruling BRS faces competition from the BJP and the Congress. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is banking on social welfare schemes to win a third consecutive term.

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PM Modi launches initiative to increase number of Jan Aushadhi Kendras from 10,000 to 25,000

PM Narendra Modi also dedicated to the nation the landmark 10,000th Jan Aushadi Kendra at AIIMS, Deoghar.



Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday interacted with the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra beneficiaries through video conferencing. During the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an initiative to increase the Jan Aushadhi Kendras from 10,000 to 25,000. Under the aegis of Pradhan Mantri Janaushadhi Pariyojana, these Kendra’s sell medicines at subsidised rates. 

PM Narendra Modi also dedicated to the nation the landmark 10,000th Jan Aushadi Kendra at AIIMS, Deoghar. The Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana is a campaign-public welfare scheme by the Indian government. Launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Jan Aushadhi Kendras provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses.  

A statement from the Prime Minister’s office stated that the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra is being undertaken across the country with an aim to attain saturation of flagship schemes of the government by ensuring that the benefits of these schemes reach all targeted beneficiaries in a time bound manner.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched the Drone Didi Yojana. The aforesaid scheme aims to provide drones to 15,000 select women Self Help Groups during the period 2024-25 to 2025-2026 for providing rental services to farmers for agriculture purposes. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the Union Cabinet  approved a central scheme for providing drones to 15,000 women Self Help Groups (SHGs), with an outlay of Rs 1,261 crore for two years beginning 2024-25 fiscal year. Under the aegis of this drone scheme, it has been ensured that the use of technology in farming drones will improve efficiency in spraying fertilisers and pesticides.

While interacting with the beneficiaries of the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that he believes that people are saying on the basis of their experience and their heart that PM Modi’s guarantees begin from the point one stops expecting from others.

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Telangana elections: Clash between Bharat Rashtra Samithi and Congress workers breaks out in Rangareddy district

According to reports BRS workers stopped state Congress president – party candidate Revanth Reddy’s brother Konadal Reddy from visiting the polling station in Kamareddy. They said Reddy is not a voter here and as a result is not authorized to visit.



A clash between workers of the rulling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and the Congress party broke out in Rangareddy district during the ongoing state elections in Telangana. The police reached the spot to control the situation and no injuries have been reported in the clashes.

Earlier scuffle broke out the Congress, BRS and BJP workers at a polling booth in Jangaon. According to reports BRS workers stopped state Congress president – party candidate Revanth Reddy’s brother Konadal Reddy from visiting the polling station in Kamareddy. They said Reddy is not a voter here and as a result is not authorized to visit.

BRS workers told the media, Kondal Reddy is roaming around with a fake pass with 20 people. He went to three polling stations with them in three vehicles but the police did not stop them. The BRS workers said Reddy is indulging in hooliganisim after coming here. BRS workers told the media that they are going to complain to the Election Commision.

Telangana is the youngest state in India where the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party are up against each other. A total of 2290 contestants are fighting the elections. Some of the important candidates fighting the election are  Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, his son KT Rama Rao, Congress President A Revanth Reddy and BJP’s Bandi Sanjay Kumar and D Arvind.

A total of 119 candidates are contesting the elections from 119 seats from the BRS. According to the seat sharing agreement between the BJP and Jana Sena are contesting the state elctions on 111 and 8 seats respectively. The voting started at 7am and will continue till 5pm in 106 constituencies. In 13 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas in the state, the polling started at 7am and will continue till 4pm. According to the Election commission a total of 20.64% polling was recorded till 11 am.

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