The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the Maharashtra government to file its replies to petitions filed by activists Rona Wilson and Shoma Sen, seeking quashing of charges against them in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case. A bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale also directed the NIA, which is conducting a probe into the case, to file its reply to Sen’s petition. Wilson and Sen filed their pleas in the HC earlier this year, citing the report of US-based firm Arsenal Consulting which claimed electronic evidence had been planted on Wilson’s computer. The petitioners claimed such tampering of evidence had been done to frame Wilson and his co-accused in the case.
Last week, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed its reply to Wilson’s plea and disputed the US firm’s report. The probe agency said it was refuting the allegations and claims made in the report, and urged the HC to dismiss Wilson’s plea. On Tuesday, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, sought additional time to file a reply to Sen’s plea.
The petitioners’ counsel, senior advocate Indira Jaising, told the HC that in the pleas they had also challenged the sanction granted by the Maharashtra government in 2018 to prosecute the petitioners under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). She claimed the sanction had been granted without due application of mind. Since the state was the sanctioning authority, it must file its reply to both the pleas, she said. Jaising further claimed the then Investigating Officer (IO) in the case, Shivaji Pawar, had failed to provide all paperwork to the sanctioning authority, and that he suppressed information, particularly on the question of tampering of the electronic evidence.
“The IO in this case failed to record that there was tampering of the computer belonging to the petitioner,” Jaising said. She said the IO, who was also a party to the case, must be directed to file an independent reply to the pleas.
The Maharashtra government’s counsel, advocate Deepak Thakare, sought four weeks for the state to file its replies. Thakre also said he would take instructions on whether the IO could respond as a party to the case.
The HC will hear the petitions further on June 16. The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad conclave, held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the city’s outskirts.
The Pune police claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists.