The Bombay High Court on Friday extended the interim bail granted to poet-activist Varavara Rao on medical grounds till February 5 in the Bhima Koregaon case, reported PTI.

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.

The High Court had granted interim medical bail to Rao for six months on February 22. With Friday’s order, the court has extended the relief on eight occasions since the bail period ended on September 5.

During Friday’s hearing, National Investigation Agency counsel Sandesh Patil informed the High Court that Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh has not been briefed about Rao’s plea and sought a week’s time for it. He said that the Rao’s date of surrender can be extended till then.

The bench of Justices SS Shinde and NR Borkar said there was no point of hearing the matter next week and extending the poet’s date of surrender only till then given the coronavirus pandemic.

“Experts say third wave [of the coronavirus] may last for 50 to 60 days,” the High Court said. “This time, the police, health workers are testing positive very rapidly. The situation wasn’t as bad the last time. So in such a situation, is it proper to send him [Rao] back to jail?”

The High Court added: “Of course, we are aware of the seriousness of allegations [against Rao], and the point of law involved. We will hear you [all parties] on the next date on merits.”

It clarified that given the nature of the allegations against Rao, it was important that the matter is heard at length before a decision is taken, reported Bar and Bench.

Senior counsel Anand Grover, appearing for Rao, told the High Court that considering the octogenarian poet’s health condition, age and chronic ailments, he has filed a fresh application seeking permanent bail on health grounds.

“We have also challenged some of the findings and medical report conclusions of Nanavati Hospital,” Grover said.

The counsel was referring to a report submitted by Nanavati Hospital authorities on December 17 after conducting cardiac, psychiatric, neurological and urological tests on Rao. The hospital had said that the poet’s vital parameters were in the normal range and that he did not need “active management or change in medication”.

On the basis of the report, the National Investigation Agency had urged the court to send the poet back to jail.

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 the superintendent of Taloja Jail has denied him access to his ayurvedic medicine despite a court order allowing it.

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 CPI (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.