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Setback to Gujarat government frequently detaining activists, as court calls tribal farmer leader Sutariya's arrest illegal

Romel Sutariya
By Our Representative
In a landmark judgment which is seen as a major setback to the Gujarat government seeking to arrest activists ahead of important functions as a preventive measure, the sessions court of Tapi district of South Gujarat has said that the arrest of Romel Sutariya, leader of the upcoming tribal farmer organization, Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Manch (AKSM) ahead of May 1 Gujarat Foundation Day celebrations was without any legal basis.
The arrest was made apprehending black flag protests by AKSM and its allies on the Gujarat Day celebrations. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel was the main guest at the May 1 function in the predominantly tribal district of Tapi. The order comes against the backdrop of several cases of activists being detained without showing any notice ahead of state-sponsored functions.
In one such bizarre incident, two days ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat business summit (January 11-12, 2015), a senior Gandhian activist, Indukumar Jani, a senior economist, Prof Rohit Shukla, and People’s Union for Civil Liberties general secretary Gautam Thaker were “picked up” from the heart of Ahmedabad as they were going to attend a farmers’ protest rally 20 kilometres away. They were detained, along with other farmer leaders, for the whole day.
There have been similar such “preventive detentions” ahead of major state functions have become common, Gujarat activists point out. Sutariya was picked up in the wee hours of April 27, and his detention was upheld by the executive magistrate, Vyara, district headquarters of Tapi, on April 29. The reason for detaining Sutariya was the police “apprehension” that the AKSM leader and his colleagues would create a “law and order problem” on May 1.
The executive magistrate went by the cops’ argument that Sutariya and four of his colleagues had “threatened” self-immolation on lines of Gajendra Singh, who committed suicide at an Aam Aadmi Party meeting in Delhi a few days earlier. The sessions judge, Gita Gopi, “quashed” and “set aside” the executive magistrate’s order, finding it “without any basis”, and upheld the innocence of Sutariya and his four other colleagues.
Arguing for Sutariya and others, advocate NS Pradhan said, his clients had “not given threat of self-immolation”, adding, they had in fact “given written confirmation” about that. Pradhan argued, his clients had been “falsely arrested and detained”, adding the police and the executive magistrate had thus “breached the right of the accused”. Yet, the arrest was upheld by the executive magistrate.
Worse, though the “offence” registered against the Sutariya and others was “bailable”, even the bail was rejected, Pradhan said, adding, the executive magistrate “has no discretionary power to send” the them to judicial custody, yet this is what happened.
Upholding Pradhan’s plea for Sutatiya and others, the sessions court judge said, the record sent by the executive magistrate did not warrant any arrest, adding, the executive magistrate, before allowing the arrest, should have acted on recorded information, and not the expression of a belief, as supplied by the cops, about the breach of peace. The magistrate should have seen the warrant of arrest and whether there was indeed any possibility of breach of peace.
Pointing out that the Sutariya and others were set free by the sessions court only after they produced a personal bond on May 2, a day after the Gujarat Day celebrations ended, the judge said several procedural lapses had occurred in allowing the arrest. Thus, magistrate should have inquired into the truthfulness of the information before upholding the arrest of Sutariya and others, and should have sought “further evidence as may be necessary”.
“The Executive magistrate has not observed the propriety to the proceedings as provided under the criminal procedure code”, the judge said, adding, “there was no show cause notice on record”, hence, the executive magistrate’s order was “against the mandate of the law.”

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