New Delhi: The Delhi Police on Tuesday defended the arrest of activist Disha Ravi in the toolkit case, asserting it has acted in accordance with the law, even as another suspect Shantanu Muluk was granted a 10-day pre-arrest bail by the Bombay High Court.
Intensifying its probe, the police have sought details from video conferencing platform Zoom about a January 11 meeting by a pro-Khalistan group on the controversial toolkit backing the farmers’ stir that has been cited by critics as “proof” of a conspiracy to fuel protests in India.
Ravi, who was on Sunday sent to a five-day police custody after being arrested in Bengaluru for allegedly creating the toolkit, was allowed by a Delhi court on Tuesday to speak with her family members over the phone for 15 minutes a day and meet her lawyer for 30 minutes a day.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma also asked the Delhi police to hand over to 21-year-old Ravi a copy of the FIR and other documents related to her arrest and permitted her access to warm clothes, masks, books, etc.
While several opposition parties and activists have questioned the manner in which Ravi was arrested and brought to the national capital, the Delhi Commission for Women on Tuesday sent a notice to the city police seeking a report by Friday on issues like why she was allegedly not produced before a court for transit remand and not provided a lawyer of her choice.
However, Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava denied any lapse.
“Disha Ravi’s arrest has been made in accordance with the law which doesn’t differentiate between a 22-year-old or a 50-year-old,” he told reporters at an event while dismissing criticism of the police action against Ravi.
According to the police, Ravi, along with Mumbai lawyer Nikita Jacob and Pune engineer Shantanu Muluk, created the “toolkit” related to the farmers’ agitation against agri laws that was posted on Twitter by climate activist Greta Thunberg.
It alleged that they shared it with others to “tarnish” India’s image and collaborated with pro-Khalistan elements.
Muluk, a resident of Beed in central Maharashtra, and Jacob had on Monday approached the high court separately seeking transit anticipatory bail after a Delhi court issued non-bailable warrants against them.
Justice Vibha Kankanwadi of the Aurangabad bench of the Mumbai High Court on Tuesday granted Muluk ten days’ transit anticipatory bail to enable him to apply for protection before an appropriate court in Delhi.
An order on Jacob’s plea would be passed on Wednesday, Justice P D Naik of the high court’s principal bench in Mumbai said after the hearing.
The case has been lodged under IPC sections 124(a) (sedition), 153 (a) (promoting enmity among different groups) and 120 (b) criminal conspiracy.
Police alleged that Jacob and Muluk were among the around 70 people who had attended the meeting on preparing the toolkit organised by pro-Khalistan group Poetic Justice Foundation through the Zoom app, days before the Republic Day violence in the national capital that left more than 500 police personnel injured and one protester dead.
“The Delhi Police has written to video conferencing app Zoom seeking details of participants who attended the meeting on January 11,” an official said.
Sources said police are also likely to approach WhatsApp seeking details of the ‘International Farmers’ Strike’ group created in December last year.
“We are also trying to probe the funding module in the toolkit case,” a source said.
The police had claimed that Ravi sent the “toolkit” to teen climate activist Greta Thunberg through the Telegram app and also “coaxed her to act on it”.
Officials said that police have so far not received a reply from Google on the document being investigated.
The Joint Commissioner of Police (Cyber), Prem Nath, had alleged that the e-mail account created by Muluk is the owner of this Google document.
“Pro-Khalistani group Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) founder Mo Dhaliwal had contacted them (Jacob and Muluk) through a Canada-based woman named Punit,” Nath had said.
“Nikita and Shantanu (Muluk) had on January 11 attended a Zoom meeting organised by PFJ in which modalities were decided to create the ‘toolkit’ titled ‘Global Farmer Strike’ and ‘Global Day of Action, 26 January’,” Nath had said.
Police sources claimed that Muluk was in the national capital between January 20 and 27, but did not elaborate.
In the Mumbai High Court, Advocate Hiten Venegavkar, appearing for the Delhi police’s cyber cell, assured the Mumbai bench that “no prudent officer” would arrest a person when his or her application is pending in court.
Senior counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for Jacob, argued that the alleged toolkit was prepared by a number of people and “only spoke of support to the protesting farmers”.
“It does not talk about any violence or about the January 26 incident at the Red Fort (when a tractor rally by protesters led to violence),” Desai argued.
Serious charges of sedition have been invoked against a person like Jacob who is only a young environmental enthusiast, the lawyer said.
Advocate Venegavkar, however, claimed that the toolkit was created and authored by Disha Ravi and Jacob along with many others who are part of the Khalistan movement.
Jacob, instead of cooperating with the investigation, absconded from her residence, he alleged.
“A team of Delhi police went to Jacob’s house on February 11 with a search warrant. She was questioned and her statement was recorded at her residence itself instead of taking her to the local police station,” Venegavkar said.
“The police team left her house on February 11 since it was after sunset and told her that they would return the next day for further investigation. Since then, Jacob is absconding,” he said.
To this, Justice Naik said she must have apprehended arrest.
Desai said Jacob had indeed left the house as she feared arrest, adding that if granted bail, she would cooperate with the probe agency.
Justice Naik, before reserving order, said he would not go into the merits of the case but only consider whether a case was made for the grant of transit anticipatory bail.
Jacob and Muluk in their pleas alleged they were targets of political vendetta.
Thunberg had shared the ‘toolkit’ to lend her support to the farmers’ agitation against the three agri reform laws. In the document, various urgent actions, including creating a Twitter storm and protesting outside Indian embassies, were listed to garner support for the farmers’ protest.
In Bengaluru, activists of the National Students’ Union of India, the student wing of the Congress, staged a demonstration against Ravi’s arrest.
The Left-wing All India Students’ Association (AISA), which had protested in Bengaluru a day earlier, held a demonstration at the Delhi Police headquarters.
Ravi’s arrest has triggered a war of words between the opposition and the ruling BJP.
Accusing the government of “murdering democracy”, the opposition on Monday said the voice of India cannot be silenced even as the BJP defended the action, saying a crime is a crime no matter at what age.
Haryana Home Minister and BJP leader Anil Vij, whose tweet on the issue had sparked a row, said he was not afraid of police complaints being filed against him over the matter and claimed that even Twitter had not found anything wrong in his post.