The panel set up to inquire into the 2018 violence has suspended work till provision of suitable accommodation

The Bhima Koregaon Commission has suspended all hearings till the Maharashtra government provides it a suitable accommodation in Mumbai.

What is the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case?

On January 1, 1818, a battle between the Peshwas and the British resulted in the overthrow of the Peshwas. To honour the valour of the soldiers, a Vijay Stambh, a war memorial was built Bhima Koregaon village. In 1921, on January 1, Dr B.R. Ambedkar visited the site which resulted in the initiation of an annual tradition to commemorate the occasion. Thereafter every year on January 1, large numbers of Bahujan gather at the Vijay Stambh to pay tribute to Dalits.

On December 12, 2017, a public meeting by the name of ‘Elgar Parishad’ was organised in Pune at Shanivar Wada, 30 kilometres from Koregaon. On January 1, 2018 a large crowd of Dalits and Bahujans gathered at the Vijay Stambh. They were attacked by armed mobs of over 1,000 people, most of them on motorbikes holding saffron flags and shouting religious and political slogans. They engaged in violence including arson, stone pelting and attacks with swords, iron rods. This resulted in the death of a 28-year-old man and considerable loss of private and public property.

The Bhima Koregaon Commission

On January 4, 2018, the State government requested the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court to nominate a sitting judge of the High Court as a Commission of Inquiry . On February 6, 2018, the Chief Justice conveyed that as per the judgments of the Supreme Court it is not possible to recommend a sitting judge. After three days, the Chief Justice forwarded three names of retired Chief Justices of High Courts.

On February 9, 2018, retired chief justice of the Calcutta High Court, Jay Narayan Patel and chief secretary of Maharashtra government, Sumit Mullick were appointed to head a Commission of Inquiry to make inquiries into the sequence of events that happened at Koregaon-Bhima on January 1 2018.

Role and Power of the Commission

The terms of reference of the Commission would be to inquire the causes and consequences of the events; whether any individual or group of individuals was directly or indirectly responsible for the said incident; the adequacy or otherwise of the planning and preparedness by the district administration and police machinery for maintaining law and order; whether the steps taken by the police in order to avoid recurrence of such incidents.

The Commission has the power to require any person to furnish information; power to enter or authorise to enter into any building or place and seize any books of accounts or documents; the commission to be deemed to be civil court and the proceedings before the commission be a judicial proceeding. The commission shall conduct the inquiry and submit the report within four months from the date of notification and shall determine its headquarters and regulate its own procedure.

Functioning of the Commission

Although the Commission was appointed by a notification dated February 9, 2018, office posts like Secretary, Technical expert, clerk etc were created only by a notification dated March 31, 2018; but appointments were not made by the government immediately. The Secretary, V.V. Palnitkar was appointed on April 28, 2018 who took steps to set up offices at Mumbai and Pune. In the meantime, appointment of staff, issuance of notifications, calling affidavits from public and organizations, scrutiny of affidavits was undertaken which was all done by June 8, 2018. The office premises at Pune required heavy repairs which were completed at the end of September, 2018.

On June 9, 2018 another notification was issued and time for submission of the report of inquiry was extended to October 8, 2018. The last date for submission of affidavits was July 16, 2018. More than 500 affidavits were submitted and the Commission had to scrutinize them and prepare the gist of the affidavits.

Actual Work of the Commission

The actual work of recording evidence started only in September, 2018 and the time to submit report was extended from time to time. Despite emphatically mentioning that the Commission may require not less than six months for 50 more witnesses, a notification was issued on February 11, 2020, the last extension of two months was given upto April 8, 2020.

The Commission held sittings in Mumbai from February 24 and 26 at Pune and March 9 to 14 and from March 23 and 28. However after that the lockdown was announced owing to the COVID 19 pandemic and from April 2020 to August 2021 all hearings were suspended.

Commission hearings suspended

A letter was sent by Mr Palnitkar on June 21, 2021, October 23, 2021 and an email was sent on October 26, 2021 for providing suitable accommodation on emergency basis for an office in Mumbai to hold hearings there. The letter was written on behalf of the Commission addressed to the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary. It stated, if accommodation is not provided by October 29 the Commission would suspend its hearing. However there was no response from the government so the Commission has suspended all future hearings till the Government takes any step.