Facing flak over registering a criminal case against 70 campaigners who stood their ground against the proposed flyover project in the Sankey Tank area, the Bangalore City Police Commissioner Pratap Reddy on Tuesday, 4 April, transferred the case to the Halasuru Gate Police Station for an independent and an impartial inquiry.
According to senior police officials, there have been diverse aspects, arguments, and disagreements pertaining to the complaint filed and the case registered.
The Halasuru Gate police are expected to look into the matter for an impartial and logical conclusion.
Reddy told South First on Tuesday: “I came to know of this issue (FIR registered against Sankey Tank campaigners) through social media on Sunday. As of now, no representation has been made to me by the campaigners.”
He added: “Since it has been brought to my notice, we are getting the case transferred to the Halasuru Gate Police Station for an independent inquiry as the campaigners are in disagreement with the actions of the jurisdictional Sadhashivanagar Police Station.”
Related: Citizens walk in solidarity to save Sankey Tank in Bengaluru
On 19 February, the Sadashivanagar police took up a suo motu complaint from a head constable named Bhirappa Kannal (36) and registered an FIR against 70 of the Sankey Tank campaigners led by the NGO Jhatkaa.org.
The cops booked the protesters for wrongful confinement, unlawful assembly, and obstruction of public way under sections of the IPC.
Asked why a suo motu case was registered where citizens were engaged in peaceful protest when there were instances of the police refusing to take suo motu cases on hate speeches during political rallies in the city and state, senior police officials told South First: “We have certainly registered cases over hate speeches as and when they have occurred.”
They added: “However, it was the same Karnataka police that had earlier mentioned that for such instances (hate speeches), there was a policy decision not to register suo motu complaints unless complainants come forward. This was when the controversial BJP leader Pragya Thakur allegedly made a hate speech in Shivamogga during the last week of December in a political rally. The police initially refused to take up a case suo motu. An FIR was registered against Thakur only after pressure from the Opposition.”
Related: ‘If citizens don’t want Sankey flyover, the MLA too doesn’t want it’
The campaigners’ account
According to the campaigners, citizens gathered on 19 February dressed in black to participate in a peaceful march to save trees.
The event was planned with people marching in an orderly manner along the footpath without causing any obstruction to traffic.
However, Avijit Michael, the managing trustee of the NGO Jhatkaa.org, who participated in the activity, was issued a notice to appear for questioning by the Sadashivanagar police regarding alleged violations of multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The police notice issued against Avijit invoked IPC Sections 341, 141, 149, and 283, which pertain to wrongful confinement, unlawful assembly, and obstruction of public way respectively.
The police claimed that Michael and the other protesters had violated these sections during their march.
However, the campaigners alleged that they had video evidence that completely contradicted the police’s claims.
The video showed that none of the conditions of the IPC sections, under which Michael and others had been charged, were violated, they said.
There was no obstruction of public way, no unlawful assembly, nor was anyone wrongfully confined, they added.
Michael and the other citizens were peacefully marching along the footpath of Sankey Road in an effort to raise awareness about the need to save trees, the campaigners stated.
Related: Why are residents, experts opposed to Sankey Road flyover?
Outrage over FIR
The filing of the FIR led to widespread outrage, with many people accusing the police of intimidation and harassment of peaceful protesters.
The cops were also criticised for their high-handedness and for falsely charging innocent citizens.
The filing of the FIR raised serious questions about democratic values, the state of the freedom of expression, and the right to protest, that too for the conservation of the environment, the Sankey Tank campaigners pointed out.
One of the campaigners, Malleswaram resident Preeti Sunderajan, told South First that the jurisdictional Sadashivanagar police had been in constant touch with them, “discouraging us from participating in these campaigns”.
She said: “We had obtained permission from the police not for a protest but for a celebration campaign of hugging trees and events, where botanists would be present and explain to us about each of the heritage trees — around 60 of them marked for axing to make way for the flyover.”
Preeti added: “Since then, the cops have been calling us frequently and asking us to come to the station. We have been subjected to veiled threats for carrying on with our campaigns, with the cops repeatedly telling us that they were under immense pressure to stop them.”
She told South First: “Although permission for the campaign was sought much before the 19 February walk, the cops now say that we should have ideally obtained written permission before it. The cops were also saying that the G-20 Summit was ongoing in Bengaluru and they would have certainly not given any permission for protests.”
However, Preeti and other campaigners argued with the cops that it was not a protest but a celebration.
Police defend action
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central Division) Srinivas Gowda defended his men and said that the police had not erred in this case.
The DCP told South First that the police had done their job keeping in mind the violation of high court directives, and that the police permission for the event was not obtained by the organisers.
“At present, we have transferred the case to Halasuru Gate police for an independent investigation,” Srinivas Gowda told South First.
According to the Sadashivanagar police, it was Shivaji Jayanthi on 19 February and a few organisations had come to garland the Shivaji statue in Bhashyam Circle.
It was the same time when the Sankey Tank campaigners had gathered and had taken up a walkathon towards Bhashyam Circle without obtaining police permission.
“We should be informed about such events well in advance, so that we do our preparations in order to avoid any untoward incident. This event violated the high court directives, and we were forced to take up a case,” a senior police officer said.
Meanwhile, the legal team of the Sankey Tank campaigners are confident of getting the FIR quashed in the high court since the walk by the citizens was carried out for voicing their concerns over a flyover project that would jeopardise the environment and biodiversity of Sankey Tank.
The team of campaigners have planned a meeting with the city police chief and the state police top brass on Wednesday.
“We are going to meet up with the Police Commissioner Prathap Reddy and also state police chief Praveen Sood on Wednesday to voice our concerns,” Preeti said.
“The local MLA (Ashwath Narayan) still does not want to meet us, and says what the police did was their duty, and this is clearly creating fear in the minds of people and attempting to suppress our voices,” she added.