NEW DELHI, Aug 29 - Five human rights activists arrested in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence case would be kept under house arrest at their homes till September 6, the Supreme Court ordered today, observing that dissent was the �safety valve� of democracy.
While granting relief to activists Varavara Rao, Arun Farreira, Vernon Gonzalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navalakha, the top court did not consider for now the vehement opposition of Maharashtra government challenging the locus of the petitioners, historian Romila Thapar and four others, seeking relief on their behalf, and calling them �strangers�.
The Maharashtra police had arrested them in connection with an FIR lodged following a conclave � �Elgaar Parishad� � held on December 31 last year that had later triggered violence at Koregaon-Bhima village. The state had challenged the petitioners� locus, dubbing them as �strangers�.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra questioned the state police�s move to arrest these activists nine months after the incident and said that all of them were reputed citizens and �stifling the dissent� was not good.
�Dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you don�t allow these safety valves, it will burst,� the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said in a packed courtroom. Taking a strong note of the submissions of the state government, it said, �This (arrest) is a wider issue. Their (petitioners�) problem is quelling dissent.�
�Nine months after Bhima-Koregaon, you go and arrest these people,� the bench asked, while taking serious note of Maharashtra�s plea that they were arrested in pursuance of an FIR. Issuing notice to the Maharashtra government and its police, the bench considered the submissions of senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners, that the arrested activists be kept in house arrest.
He said two of the five arrested persons � Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navalakha � were currently under house arrest following the orders passed by two high courts while the three others were on transit remand.
Singhvi said as an interim measure, all the five be kept under �house arrest in their own homes�.
The plea was accepted by the bench which, however, said that all the contentions of the parties would be kept open. � PTI