Human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling and writer-activist Sudhir Dhawale, arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, approached Bombay High Court on Friday challenging the transfer of the probe from Pune police to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The case, in which several human rights activists have been arrested for alleged Maoist links, was transferred from Pune police to NIA on January 24 this year. Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in June 2018 and are lodged at the Taloja jail near Mumbai.
The petition, filed through advocate SB Talekar, alleged the transfer of the probe was done by the Central government after BJP lost power in Maharashtra and was hence "politically motivated".
"The transfer order is arbitrary, discriminatory, unjust and violative of the fundamental rights of the accused persons in the case," the petition said.
"The then BJP-led state government with Hindutva agency used the incident of violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune in December 2017-January 2018 to target influential Dalit thinkers by showing the Elgar Parishad meeting as part of a Maoist movement," the petition said.
The petition said "political expediency" cannot be a ground to invoke powers of NIA Act and transfer probe.
The petition further claimed the NIA Act, 2008 does not permit transfer of case after completion of investigation and commencement of trial, particularly when there are no compelling circumstances necessitating such a transfer.
"The order transferring the investigation to NIA after completion of probe amounts to re-investigation, which is not permissible under law," the petition said, and claimed the transfer was bad in law as no permission was sought from the high court to initiate re-investigation.
The petition claimed chargesheets have been filed in the case, but in November last year the newly formed Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra proposed to form a special investigation team to look into the case.
"The Central government immediately issued a notification directing NIA to take up the investigation in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case without assigning any reason," the petition said.
The petition further claimed that in April 2018, the Pune police had submitted a report to the Union government on the nature of offences alleged in the FIR, the role of each of the accused and other details.
After going through the report, the Central government deemed it appropriate to allow the state machinery to continue with the investigation, but in January this year changed its mind and transferred the probe to NIA, the petition said.
"The Central government, since the registration of the FIR in January 2018, did not feel it necessary to transfer the investigation to NIA till there was a change of government in Maharashtra," the petition said.
The plea is likely to be taken up for hearing on June 23 by the high court. Apart from Gadling and Dhawale, the other arrested accused in the case include Rona Wilson, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj.
They are accused of having Maoist links and have been charged under stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to the prosecution, inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017 triggered caste violence at Koregaon Bhima the next day. The police claim the conclave was backed by Maoists.