The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the National Investigation Agency and the Maharashtra prison department to examine the medical reports of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who died on July 5, reported the Hindustan Times.
Swamy suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case. Last week, the High Court was hearing Swamy’s plea seeking bail, when his counsel Mihir Desai informed the bench that the activist had died.
Desai demanded a judicial inquiry into the death of the activist, saying Swamy was taken to hospital 10 days late. The lawyer also alleged that the activist died due to a lack of medical facilities and blamed the Taloja Jail authorities.
The High Court had then directed the National Investigation Agency and the prison department to furnish Swamy’s medical records by July 13 to ascertain the veracity of the allegations made by Desai, reported The Indian Express.
It had also said that the inquiry in the alleged custodial death should be done by a competent authority. The court had directed Desai to find someone to take part in the investigation as per Section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, undertaken by the magistrate to look into cases of custodial deaths.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Public Prosecutor Aruna S Pai, appearing for the state prison department, submitted a 300-page compilation of documents, including the activist’s autopsy report and the medical documents since the time he was brought to Taloja Jail.
The High Court took this on record and asked the parties in the case to collect the same from its registry.
Desai told the bench that he will make submissions on seeking a investigation into Swamy’s death during the next hearing, which is scheduled for July 19.
Stan Swamy’s death
Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in October 2020. He was the oldest of a dozen people, most of them academics and human rights activists, jailed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in the Bhima Koregaon case, without any reliable evidence.
On May 21, the Jesuit priest urged the Bombay High Court that he should be allowed to go back to Ranchi, his hometown, as his condition had deteriorated to a point that he could not even do basic tasks like eating and bathing by himself. He was put on ventilator support after suffering a cardiac arrest on July 4.
Swamy’s counsel had said after his death that the activist had not been questioned even once since he was jailed. Desai had claimed that Taloja Jail did not have attendants and nurses, which is against prison rules.
The lawyer also alleged that the National Investigation Agency had intervened in the matter of Swamy’s hospitalisation even though that decision lies with the prison authorities.
The family and friends of those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case have said Swamy’s death was an “institutional murder”. United Nations Human Rights Commission spokesperson Liz Throssell had said that the agency had repeatedly urged Indian government to protect a robust civil society. She also raised concerns about the way he was treated, while calling for the release of people detained without proper legal basis.
On July 6, 10 Opposition leaders wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind demanding action against those responsible for foisting false cases on the activist. On Monday, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said that the Narendra Modi government had made the life of the tribal rights activist more difficult in custody.
The Centre, however, refuted the charges saying that Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency under due process of law.