The Supreme Court on Thursday sought a response from the Maharashtra government on two petitions seeking separate probes by the CBI and the NIA into the alleged lynching of three people, including two seers, in the state's Palghar district in April.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, which heard the matter through videoconferencing, agreed to hear the petitions, including the one filed by sadhus of 'Shri Panch Dashban Juna Akhara' and relatives of the deceased seers. Their plea alleged that the investigation by the state police was being carried out in a biased manner.
The other plea, seeking an NIA probe into the incident, has been filed by Ghanshyam Upadhyay.
The bench, also comprising justices M R Shah and V Ramasubramanian, has posted these matters for further hearing in the second week of July.
Besides the Maharashtra government, one of the petitions has arrayed the Centre, CBI and the director general of police of Maharashtra as respondents in the matter.
The three victims from Kandivali in Mumbai were travelling in a car to attend a funeral at Surat in Gujarat amid the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown when their vehicle was stopped and they were attacked and killed by a mob in Gadchinchile village on the night of April 16 in the presence of police.
The victims were identified as Chikne Maharaj Kalpavrukshagiri, 70, Sushil Giri Maharaj, 35, and Nilesh Telgade, 30, who was driving the vehicle.
While hearing a separate plea seeking a CBI probe in the case, the top court had on May 1 directed the Maharashtra government to submit a status report on the investigation in the matter.
The fresh plea filed by 'sadhus' of 'Shri Panch Dashban Juna Akhara' has sought transfer of the probe to the CBI, claiming that there is "reasonable apprehension of bias" if Maharashtra police proceeds with the investigation.
"Several video clippings have emerged on social media and news reports which very clearly demonstrate the active involvement of the police present, who can be seen handing over the three persons to the unlawful assembly of persons gathered," the plea has claimed.
"The entire incident and its handling raise several questions which remain unanswered till date and as the petitioners apprehend, shall never be answered unless they are investigated by an independent, unsullen and reputed arm of the central agencies," it said.
It has also sought a direction to the authorities to "favourably decide" the April 28 representations of the petitioner which has sought allotment of land at the site of the killing for setting up a memorial.
During the hearing, the counsel appearing for one of the petitioners claimed before the bench that witnesses in the case were committing suicide and there were reasons to believe that investigation was not taking its course.
The counsel appearing for another petitioner told the court that they have apprehension that evidence might disappear in the case.
The counsel appearing for the Maharashtra government opposed both the petitions and said that similar pleas are already pending before the Bombay High Court.
One of the petitions has also sought a direction to the authorities to pay compensation to the families of the victims.
The police has arrested over 100 people in connection with the case.