The Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought responses from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Central and Maharashtra governments on a petition filed by two accused challenging transfer of the Elgar Parishad case probe from the Pune police to the NIA.
A division bench of Justices SS Shinde and Abhay Ahuja directed the Union government, the NIA and the state government to file their affidavits, and posted the petition for further hearing on July 14.
The petition was filed by human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Sudhir Dhawale who are lodged in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
In their petition filed last week through advocate SB Talekar, Gadling and Dhawale had alleged that the transfer of the probe was done by the Central government after the BJP lost power in Maharashtra and that the decision was "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 theElgarParishadmeeting as part of a Maoist movement," the petition said.
It added that "political expediency" cannot be a ground to invoke powers of the NIA Act and transfer probe.
The petition further claimed that the NIA Act, 2008, does not permit transfer of a case after completion of investigation and commencement of trial, particularly when there are no compelling circumstances necessitating such a transfer.
The case, in which several other rights activists have been arrested and accused of having Moist links, was transferred from the Pune police to the NIA on January 24 this year.
Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in June 2018 and are currently lodged at the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
Apart from Gadling and Dhawale, the other arrested accused include Rona Wilson, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj.
They have been accused of having Maoist links and were booked under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to 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. Police suspect that the conclave was backed by Maoists.