A speedy trial is a fundamental right, the Bombay High Court observed on Monday while hearing a petition seeking a judicial probe into tribal rights activist Stan Swamy’s death, The Hindu reported.

A bench comprising Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar made these comments while referring to those accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. The bench asked Sandesh Patil, the lawyer for the National Investigation Agency, to take instructions on the trial in the case.

“You [the NIA’s lawyer] will argue the matter and leave,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench. “But we have to answer. For how many years without trial can people be asked to languish in jails? Speedy trial is a fundamental right.”

Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, died in a Mumbai hospital on July 5. He was repeatedly denied bail despite his deteriorating health condition. Swamy was the oldest of a dozen people, most of them academics and human rights activists, jailed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in the case without any reliable evidence.

Lawyer Mihir Desai, representing Swamy, has demanded a judicial inquiry into the death of the activist as he 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.

Desai has also demanded that Swamy’s friend Frazer Mascarenhas be allowed to participate in the inquiry.

Have ‘great respect’ for Swamy’s work: HC

During Monday’s hearing, the High Court said that it has “great respect” for Swamy’s work, but noted that the legal case against him was a different matter.

“We don’t have time normally, but I saw the funeral service [of Swamy],” Justice Shinde said. “It was very gracious. Such a wonderful person...the kind of service he has rendered to the society. We have great respect for his work. Legally, whatever is there against him is a different matter.”

The bench said that Swamy filed his petition on May 28 and after that, the court acceded to all of his requests. The judges said his death came as a shock to them and it was not anticipated.

Elgar Parishad case

Several activists and academics have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day. One person was killed and several others were injured in the incident.

Fourteen of the people accused in the case remain in prison in Maharashtra, and a charged under the stringent UAPA. Their families have expressed fears about their health in custody.

Rama Teltumbde, the wife of another accused Anand Teltumbde, told Scroll.in that she could see a marked difference in her husband’s weight and appearance.

Another accused, Shoma Sen, has been dealing with severe arthritis for more than 15 years, her daughter Koel Sen said.