The Bombay High Court on Monday extended the medical bail of poet Varavara Rao till January 7 in the Bhima Koregaon case, Live Law reported. At a previous hearing, the High Court had extended his bail till Monday.

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Rao was among 16 people who were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

During Monday’s hearing, a bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal said that Rao’s plea for further extension of his medical bail will be heard on January 4. The High Court had granted interim medical bail to Rao for six months on February 22. The court has extended the relief on seven occasions since the bail period ended on September 5.

The court on Monday also allowed Rao to file an affidavit against a private hospital’s report suggesting that his health condition was “cognitively normal”. On December 18, the National Investigation Agency had cited the medical report to argue that the poet-activist was medically stable and must surrender to the prison authorities.

The report was submitted after the High Court had asked Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital to perform medical tests on Rao to assess his health condition.

On Monday, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the National Investigation Agency, once again argued that Rao’s health reports were normal and he should surrender as the medical bail period had ended.

“These cannot be grounds for an extension,” Singh said, according to Live Law. “His [regular] bail was rejected on merits. There are older people in prison...They are also being treated. He can be taken to [government-run] JJ Hospital. He should be asked to surrender now.”

However, Rao’s counsel Senior Advocate Anand Grover pointed out that the poet had earlier been granted medical bail despite the Nanavati Hospital submitting a similar positive report about his health.

The court then asked Grover to file an affidavit against the hospital’s report by end of this month, Live Law reported.

The accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case, most of whom are activists, lawyers and academics, have on several occasions alleged that they had been denied basic medical care in prison. While granting medical bail to Rao in February, the Bombay High Court had observed that he was “almost on deathbed”.

Tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who had died in custody while awaiting bail on health grounds, had to wait for a month to get a sipper to drink water. Swamy suffered from Parkinson’s disease that made it difficult for him to hold a glass.

In October, Gautam Navlakha’s partner Sahba Husain had said that the activist’s health condition had deteriorated after he was shifted to the high-security barrack called the “Anda circle” of Taloja Jail.

Delhi University professor Hany Babu had to approach the court to get permission to be hospitalised to get treatment for an eye infection after testing positive for the coronavirus.

In December, lawyer Surendra Gadling had also alleged that that the superintendent of Taloja Jail in Maharashtra has denied him access to his ayurvedic medicine despite a court order allowing so.

The Bhima Koregaon case

The first chargesheet in the case was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It named activists Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Sudhir Wilson, Shoma Sen, and Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June 2018.

The police claimed that they had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused the activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.