In his first criticism of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray after their government in Maharashtra came to office in November, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar on Friday said the Shiv Sena chief was wrong in 'letting' the National Investigation Agency take over the probe into the Elgar Parishad case from the state police.
Pawar expressed his unhappiness on Thackeray's decision on a day when a Pune court passed an order to transfer the Elgar Parishad case to a special NIA court in Mumbai.
The court also said the order of investigation by the central agency cannot be said to be illegal or improper.
Talking to reporters in Kolhapur, Pawar said it was not right on the part of the Centre to hand over the probe into the case, which was with the Pune police, to the NIA as law and order was a state subject.
"It was not right for the Centre to hand over the investigation into the case to the NIA. But it was even more wrong for the state government to support the transfer of the case," said Pawar.
The NCP is a key constituent of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government which also includes the Congress.
NCP leader Anil Deshmukh is the home minister. The government was formed on November 28, 2019.
The case under probe relates to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed, triggered violence near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial in the district the next day.
The Pune police have claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists.
During the probe, the Pune police arrested Left-leaning activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao for alleged Maoist links. These nine activists, currently in jail, are among the 11 people booked by the NIA.
The Bombay high court, meanwhile, refused to grant anticipatory bail to civil rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde in the Elgar Parishad case.
Justice P D Naik, while rejecting their pre-arrest bail pleas, said 'prima facie evidence shows complicity of both the accused in the case'.
At his media interaction, Pawar said the conduct of the police and the state home department officials handling the case was objectionable, he said.
The NIA was entrusted the case at a time when the process of setting up an Special Investigation Team(SIT) was initiated by the state government, he said.
"Meetings took place between 9 am and 11 am (in Mumbai) and the Centre took the decision (to hand over the case to the NIA) at 3 pm (on January 25)," he said.
Pawar said it was not right for the Centre to encroach upon the rights of the state on law and order issue.
"The Maharashtra government should not have supported the Centre's move," the former Union minister said.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kumar told PTI on Thursday that 'the state home department has no objection to the case being entrusted to the NIA'.
On Thursday, Deshmukh said Uddhav Thackeray had overruled him on the probe in the case.
"State agencies were investigating the case, but the Centre handed over the investigation to the NIA. As Home Minister, my stand was that the Centre should have taken the state government into confidence before taking the decision.
"We were putting up our stand in the court in this direction. The chief minister has the right to overrule my stand," Deshmukh had said.
The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government had initially criticised the Centre's move to hand over the case to the NIA.
Deshmukh had then publicly expressed disapproval of the Centre's move and termed it as against the Constitution.
In Pune, Additional Sessions Judge S R Navander ordered that records and proceedings of the case be sent to the special NIA court in Mumbai, along with entire 'muddemal (related to the case) property' in sealed condition.
Before the judge passed the order, the prosecution submitted an application stating they do not have objection to the NIA's plea seeking transfer of the case.
'....at this juncture, the investigating officer of the state agency has produced an order of the state government dated 12/02/2020 thereby directing hand over of investigation of the case to NIA,' the order said.
'Thus, it becomes clear that the state investigating agency is handing over the investigation to NIA and therefore there remained no question of entrustment of investigation to the NIA, which was raised by the accused.'
Judge Navander then directed that all the accused be produced before special NIA court in Mumbai on or before February 28.
The judge observed that the object and the purpose of NIA Act is to constitute an investigating agency at national level to investigate and prosecute offences affecting the sovereignty, security, and integrity of India.
'Having regard to the aim and object of the NIA Act, the order of investigation through NIA cannot be said to be illegal or improper. That apart, the order of the transfer of investigation to NIA has not been challenged nor it has been set aside. Therefore, this court has to abide by provisions of NIA Act,' said the order.
The order further added that although the charge sheet has already been filed, some of the accused are yet to be arrested.
"Therefore, it cannot be said that the investigation in the case has been completed and nothing remains to be done by NIA. Section 173 (8) of CrPC empowers NIA to make further investigation even after filing of the charge sheet. It cannot be termed as re-investigation as argued on behalf of the accused," the judge said.