Justice SS Shinde of the Bombay High Court on Friday withdrew his remarks praising tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, reported Bar and Bench. The National Investigation Agency had told the High Court that the comments were being twisted in media reports and creating a negative perception of the central agency. It was also affecting the morale of NIA officers, the agency said.

Explaining his comments, Justice Shinde said that the news of Father Swamy’s death on July 5 was sudden. He added that he had pointed out when praising the activist that he was not commenting on Swamy’s incarceration under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

“Suppose you are hurt that I personally said something, I take those words back,” Shinde said on Friday. “Our endeavour is always to be balanced. We have never made comments... But you see, Mr [Additional Solicitor General Anil] Singh, we are also human beings and something suddenly happens like this...”

Last week, Shinde had said that he watched Swamy’s “gracious funeral” and praised the activist. “Such a wonderful person...the kind of service he has rendered to the society,” the judge had said. “We have great respect for his work. Legally, whatever is there against him is a different matter.”

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, mostly academics and human rights activists, jailed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in the case without any reliable evidence.

The court was on Friday hearing Swamy’s pleas challenging the cancellation of his bail petitions.

Judicial inquiry into Swamy’s death yet to begin: Maharashtra

During the hearing, the Maharashtra government told the High Court that the judicial magisterial inquiry into Swamy’s death is yet to begin, reported The Indian Express.

Lawyer Mihir Desai, who was representing Swamy, sought that the activist’s colleague, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, should be made a part of the inquiry. Earlier this month, Swamy’s body was handed over to Father Mascarenhas, the former principal of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College.

Desai also urged the court to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in accordance with the procedures laid down by the National Human Rights Commission and said a report should be submitted to the High Court.

According to NHRC guidelines, a judicial magistrate must conduct the inquiry in cases of custodial deaths. Swamy had died while in judicial custody and an Accidental Death Record was registered into his death.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the High Court that he had no objection to following legal procedures. But he added that there is no question of filing a report before the bench as the pending appeals will be considered abated since Swamy has died.

Desai, however, argued that that the court can keep the matter pending so that the inquiry report could be placed before the bench.

“We are not saying decide the bail applications but the High Court has supervisory powers for the purpose of ensuring complete justice is done,” Desaid said. “The concept of parens patriae would apply. The High Court would become the parens patriae in all such cases.”

Parens patriae, a Latin term, is a doctrine that grants power and authority to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf.

The court will hear the case next on August 4.