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Maha to conduct parallel probe in Elgar case: NCP

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday said the Maharashtra government will form a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the Elgar Parishad case. The Centre had transferred the probe to...

Updated: Feb 18, 2020 00:08 IST

By Faisal Malik,

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday said the Maharashtra government will form a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the Elgar Parishad case. The Centre had transferred the probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), triggering a row with the state government.

Last week, CM Uddhav Thackeray gave his nod to the handover of the investigation, a move criticised by the NCP, the second-largest constituent of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in state. The NCP holds the state home department.

Nawab Malik, Maharashtra’s minority affairs minister and NCP spokesperson, said the probe will be conducted under the provisions of section 10 of the NIA Act (see box). He was speaking after a meeting of NCP ministers and MPs called by party chief Sharad Pawar on Monday. The meeting was held amid reports of rising differences with ally Shiv Sena over the transfer of the case and after Pawar expressed his displeasure over Thackeray’s decision. “There is nothing wrong in the CM’s decision to hand over the case, because going by the NIA Act, it is binding on the state. But section 10 of the Act also empowers the state to hold a parallel investigation,” Malik said.

“Pawarsaheb has asked the home minister to act following the provisions. The home minister will now appoint an SIT to probe the case,” he said.

Home minister Anil Deshmukh said he would seek legal opinion on the setting up of an SIT.

Although it has denied bail to the accused in the Elgar Parishad case, the Supreme Court (SC) had observed that the case needs to be thoroughly investigated, Malik said.

“From the beginning, the NCP chief was of the view that activists were wrongly implicated in the case. He has also written letters to the CM and the home minister, demanding a SIT probe, which will happen now,” Malik said.

Last week, Pawar said that while the Centre’s decision directing NIA to take over the case was inappropriate, the state government’s approval was more inappropriate.

It was for the first time that Pawar had criticised any decision taken by the chief minister since the MVA government — made up of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — was formed on November 28, 2019.

“The Elgar Parishad case was discussed in today’s meeting. I will seek legal opinion over constituting a SIT in the matter. With legal opinion in place, I will also discuss the case with the chief minister,” Deshmukh said.

“The NCP chief pointed out about section 10 of the NIA act in the meeting, which says that nothing contained in this act shall affect the powers of the state government to investigate and prosecute offences under the law. He also read out the Supreme Court’s observation in which it pointed out towards detailed investigation in the Elgar Parishad case. After this, the home minister agreed to form an SIT,” said an NCP minister, requesting anonymity.

Deshmukh had said last Thursday that Thackeray used his discretionary powers to approve the handover. Deshmukh said they are still of the opinion that the Centre should have taken the state government into confidence before handing over the probe to NIA.

And on Saturday Deshmukh had said the state’s home department has sent a note to the advocate-general, seeking his legal opinion on whether an SIT can be constituted for probing Elgar Parishad case.

Advocate-general Ashutosh Kumbhkoni said that he needs to study all the relevant sections in details before reacting. “I have yet to go through the NIA Act and the section you are referring to. I will be able to offer my comments only after studying it.”

Section 10 of the NIA Act states, “Save as otherwise provided in this Act, nothing contained in this Act shall affect the powers of the state government to investigate and prosecute any scheduled offence or other offences under any law for the time being in force.”

Senior advocate and former advocate general of the state, Sheehari Aney said it would be difficult for him to give his opinion off-hand. “Before making any statement, I would like to go through the section and other details of the act,” Aney said.

As soon as the MVA government was formed, Pawar had written a letter to Thackeray demanding a probe by a SIT into the case. The NCP chief had said the erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government “abused” its power to book activists and called their arrests a conspiracy.

After Pawar’s letter, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar held a meeting with officials of the home department to review the case. The home department had also been considering appointing a SIT to probe the Elgar Parishad case. However, before it could do so, the Centre directed NIA to take over the case. The central agency has the power to take over investigations over cases, which it feels have a bearing on national security.

Congress has supported the decision. Party spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “We are sure that the probe conducted by the Pune Police was prejudiced at the behest of the erstwhile BJP government. We believe BJP’s involvement in the violence and this is the reason NIA was brought in. Section 10 allows the state to carry out a parallel probe. We support the decision so that justice can be given to the innocent and the real culprits shall be booked.”

Maharashtra Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat, too, has said that the decision of allowing the transfer of the case to the NIA should have been taken by taking other ruling parties into confidence. “Such decisions are taken by the home department.(held by the NCP). Though the CM has all rights to take such decisions, he should have discussed this with us too. However it would not affect our alliance.”

Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande said that the motive of all the three parties is to book the culprits. “The target of the investigation agencies, be it NIA, SIT or Maharashtra police, will be working to book the culprits and punish them. The agencies should work in tandem. There may be difference of opinion, but there is definitely no rift in the government, a picture which BJP is trying to paint, and the issue will be resolved soon.”

The case relates to the violence on New Year’s Day in 2018 on the banks of the Bhima river, where thousands of people, mostly Dalits, had gathered to mark the anniversary of an 1818 victory of the British Army, manned primarily by Dalit soldiers, over the Peshwa, the then rulers who instituted oppressive caste practises. A group of unidentified men on motorcycles attacked the visitors and pelted stones, killing one person and injuring 40.

The police investigation initially pointed at far-right Hindu groups, but then concentrated on the event called the Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017. Police said the event was funded by Maoists, and that the provocative speeches made at the gathering triggered the clashes a day later.

In June and August of 2018, police arrested nine prominent activists and raided the homes of many others in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities.

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