Judicial panel to begin hearing on Koregaon-Bhima riots in September

Mumbai: A two-member judicial commission will hold its first hearing on the January 1 caste riots in Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra from September 5 to 7, an official said on Saturday.

The hearings will be held by the probe commission comprising former Bombay High Court Chief Justice Justice J.N. Patel and former Maharashtra Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick. Justice Patel is also a former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court.

“Around 500 witnesses are likely to be examined during the hearings, starting with around a dozen (witnesses) next month, besides examining the voluminous documents running into more than 10,000 pages filed before the commission,” Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray told IANS.

“Among other things, the commission will inquire into the riots, its causes and consequences, whether police and civil administration had made adequate arrangements on that day or not,” he added.

The commission will also examine the sequence of events that led to the violence, the persons/organisations/groups responsible and security aspects during the gathering of over 200,000 Dalits at the venue.

Soon after the riots, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced the judicial probe. It was appointed on February 9 with a tenure of four months.

According to Hiray, the commission has already visited the riots scene in Pune district, taken pictures and videos, collected research material and other documents.

Around 500 affidavits have been filed before the commission, including by Pune Rural Police, members of the public, organisations and NGOs, and prime accused and Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote, head of Hindu Ekta Samiti who was arrested in March and is currently on bail.

On January 2, Pune police had slapped cases against Ekbote and another Hindutva leader Shri Shivpratisthan India chief Sambhaji Bhide alias Bhide Guruji were under The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Indian Penal Code, for allegedly inciting the violence in Koregaon-Bhima on January 1.

Violence erupted in small village of Koregaon-Bhima and its nearby areas during the celebrations of the historic Anglo-Maratha War of January 1, 1818, between the army of Peshwa Bajirao II and a small force of the East India Company that comprised a large number of Dalits.

Dalits from across the state had congregated around the Victory Pillar (Vijay Stambh) erected by the British in Sanaswadi village, when stone-pelting was started allegedly by right-wing groups carrying saffron flags.

In the ensuing clashes, more than 30 vehicles, including government buses, police vans and private vehicles, were torched or damaged and Rahul Fatangale, 28, of Nanded lost his life.

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