MUMBAI: Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday assured a delegation of NCP leaders comprising cabinet members Jayant Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal and legislator Prakash Gajbhiye that criminal cases filed against Dalit activists in connection with the violence at Bhima-Koregaon on January 2 and 3, 2018 would be withdrawn as early as possible.
The assurance comes after Thackeray asked the state home department, after taking over as CM on November 28, to immediately withdraw criminal cases filed against activists booked for protesting against the cutting of trees in Aarey Colony and those opposing the Nanar refinery in the Konkan.
“Law-enforcing agencies had initiated criminal proceedings against activists for their alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence and the Indu Mill agitation. All of them were falsely implicated, so we requested the CM to withdraw the cases immediately, and he acceded to our request,” Gajbhiye said.
The Bhima-Koregaon cases are different from the ones related to the Elgar Parishad rally held before the January violence. Nine activists held in the Elgar Parishad case – among them Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale and P Varavara Rao- have been accused of having links with the banned CPI (Maoist), which Pune police claim supported and funded the Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017. Alleged inflammatory speeches at the Parishad contributed to the January 1, 2018 caste clashes at Bhima-Koregaon Bhima, Pune police have claimed.
On the 200
anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on January 1 last year, a large number of people had gathered at the memorial near Pune. While the crowd was dispersing, violence erupted not only in Pune and surrounding areas but across the state. A 28-year-old youth, Rahul Patangale, was killed in the violence.
Police then registered 58 cases against 152 people for the violence. Subsequently, on February 9, 2018, the state government appointed Justice J N Patel, a former judge of the Bombay high court, to probe all aspects of the violence under the Commission of Inquiry Act. The commission was expected to complete the probe within three months. However, it has been granted extension till it completes its inquiry.
Legal experts said the government would have to follow the law and legal procedure for withdrawing cases.
“This is an odd proposition to withdraw criminal cases without scrutiny by the appropriate court of law,” said senior crime law counsel Niteen Pradhan. He said the “government must follow a proper legal process, else people could lose faith in the justice system.” Pradhan added, “Once a chargesheet has been filed, the state has no role to play in withdrawal of case. The submission of the public prosecutor assumes importance and he can recommend withdrawal of case, and the judge may then pass the order.”
“Prosecutorial discretion is a well-known facet of criminal law. The government, if it wants to withdraw cases, would make an assessment of nature of case, nature of evidence, gravity and larger public interest at the time of withdrawal,” said senior counsel Amit Desai.
Samasta Hindu Aghadi functionary Milind Ekbote and Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan’s Sambhaji Bhide were made accused in the cases that followed the violence. “Ekbote was arrested. However, while releasing him on bail, the sessions court judge gave him a clean chit by observing that there was not an iota of evidence against him,” said Pradhan, who appeared for him. He said cases against certain persons like Ekbote and Bhide—who has not been arrested—ought to be dropped under proper judicial scrutiny for lack evidence. The allegation against them was that they orchestrated the violence in Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, whereas Ekbote had not visited the area for four-five months, and Bhide had never visited the site, Pradhan said.
The Criminal Procedure Code (Section 321) provides for when a public prosecutor can withdraw cases. Such withdrawal can be done with consent of the court at any time before a judgment is pronounced.
A Pune police officer said, “Chargesheets have been filed in almost all the FIRs barring one or two in which the investigators have yet to identify the suspects. Some of the FIRs have also been transferred to the Pimpri Chinchwad police commissionerate, which was carved out of the Pune city and rural jurisdictions on August 15, 2018. Cases registered at Chakan, Dehu Road and other places are now being pursued by Pimpri Chinchwad police.