Government rejects activists' request.
Commission requests new witness to attend.
Jyoti Punwani reports.
Left activist and writer Dr Bharat Patankar may have to depose before the Bhima Koregaon Commission of Inquiry.
Commission chairman Justice J N Patel (retd) on Wednesday, October 31, expressed a wish that Dr Patankar, who is associated with progressive movements, appear before the commission.
Dr Patankar is the founder of the Shramik Mukti Dal, an organisation that has been working among the tribals of Dhule since the 1970s. He is also the founder of the Jati Mukti Andolan, which works to eradicate caste. Additionally, he is active in anti-establishment literary movements.
On January 4, a team led by Dr Patankar had visited Bhima Koregaon and nearby villages which had witnessed violence on January 1. The fact-finding report brought out by the team was filed before the commission by Dalit activist Bhimrao Bansod, who was also part of the team.
Bansod has been in the witness box for six days now. He was first cross-examined by Vijay Sawant, representing the Vivek Vichar Manch, a pro-RSS think-tank. For the last three hearings, he has being cross-examined by Niteen Pradhan, counsel for Milind Ekbote, ex-BJP corporator and the first person to be accused for the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Both Samant and Pradhan remarked that someone else has signed on Dr Patankar's behalf on the fact-finding report. Bansod explained that Dr Patankar was not present on the day the report was signed by all the members, but he had authorised someone else to sign for him.
Pradhan claimed that Dr Patankar did not sign the fact-finding report because he did not accept the analysis and conclusions of the report. He further claimed that Dr Patankar had found it "despicable" that the Elgar Parishad had been organised on the eve of January 1, 2018.
Bansod disagreed with both claims.
It was at this stage that Justice Patel asked Bansod to call Dr Patankar to depose.
Pradhan then produced an interview Dr Patankar had given the Maharashtra Times newspaper dated June 15, 2018.
In the interview, Dr Patankar described the holding of the Elgar Parishad as 'a mistake'. It had given a 'wrong direction' to the annual gathering that took place at Bhima Koregaon, the interview quotes him as saying.
Further, he said in the interview, that when he went to Bhima Koregaon to assess the situation the next day, he learnt that the rioting was done by outsiders but no one had taken the name of Milind Ekbote or Sambhaji Bhide (both Hindutva leaders were the first to be named as responsible for the rioting).
Dr Patankar expressed surprise when contacted by Rediff.com. "We were all in full agreement with the fact-finding report filed before the commission by Bhimrao Bansod," Dr Patankar said. "He was to represent all of us."
Dr Patankar said he had told the Maharashtra Times that he did not agree with the way the Elgar Parishad was organised, but had not called it a mistake.
Government rejects activists' request
The government has rejected requests by three activists: Harshali Potdar, Ramesh Gaichor and Sudhir Dhawale to provide them all the material relating to investigations into the Bhima Koregaon violence, so as to be able to defend themselves before the Bhima Koregaon Commission of Inquiry.
The material asked for ranged from station diaries to wireless messages, panchnamas to chargesheets, to evidence collected in the form of statements of witnesses, videos, etc.
State intelligence reports as well as copies of the armory stock taken out for the purpose of maintaining security in the affected areas were also requested.
This material would be necessary to evaluate the government's response to the violence said the application.
The three activists had filed applications before the commission.
Rejecting their application, the government said that chargesheets can be obtained from the courts where they have been filed. Also, the police have yet to be depose before the commission, hence the requests to submit police records at the present stage is not relevant.
The state government also rejected their application asking that top government and police officials, chief minister and state ministers for home downwards, be summoned before the commission.
The list included Sumit Mullick, who is the second member of the two-man inquiry commission. Currently the state chief information commissioner, Mullick was Maharashtra's chief secretary when the Bhima Koregaon violence occurred.
The application stated that in order to examine the administration's role in preventing and controlling the situation that occurred on January 1, top government functionaries would have to be summoned.
The third request by the applicants was also turned down. This was to first examine the police and government officials, and then the members of the public who have filed affidavits.
Shishir Hiray, the government counsel on Wednesday, filed the replies to all three applications before the commission.
Rejecting the request to summon the CM and other officials, the government said it is the government's prerogative to choose whom to call to refute the burden cast upon it.
It also said these officials have no connection with the terms of reference of the Commission -- the sequence of events that took place on January 1, 2018 at Bhima Koregaon, those responsible for them, whether the government was adequately prepared, and whether the police took adequate steps to handle the situation.
Since the burden of refuting charges is on the government, it is in the interests of natural justice that government officials and police be called to defend themselves only after everyone else has been heard, says the government reply.
The government also questioned the locus standi of the applicants.
Dalit writer Sudhir Dhawale is one of the activists arrested in June in connection with the December 31, 2017 Elgar Parishad held in Pune. Harshali Potdar had addressed the Elgar Parishad. Ramesh Gaichor is a member of the Kabir Kala Manch which had performed at the Parishad.
In April, the homes of all three activists had been raided.
The police have linked the Elgar Parishad to the violence at Bhima Koregaon.
Interestingly, the senior police inspector of every police station used to be called first to depose before the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the 1992-1993 riots. Private witnesses were called later.
The police also submitted station diaries and wireless messages of all police stations to the Srikrishna Commission. These formed a substantial part of the material relied upon by the commission and its counsel.