The Bombay High Court on Wednesday rejected activist Varavara Rao’s plea seeking permanent bail on medical grounds in the Elgaar Parishad case, PTI reported. However, the bench of Justices SB Shukre and GA Sanap extended Rao’s temporary bail by three months so that he could undergo a cataract surgery.
The judges observed that the 82-year-old activist’s continued incarceration was “inconsistent” with his poor health.
“With all humility at our command, keeping in view of the human condition, in view of advanced age and inadequate facilities at Taloja jail hospital, we are of the opinion this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief,” the judges said, according to Live Law. “Or else we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as a protector of human rights and right to health covered under Article 21.”
However, the bench also dismissed Rao’s application seeking to modify his bail conditions and allow him to go back to his home city of Hyderabad.
Rao is among the 16 activists who have been charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly conspiring to set off caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. He was granted bail on medical grounds in February last year. The court has been granting extensions on the bail order since September.
In three different petitions before the court, Rao had sought – an extension of the temporary bail granted to him in February 2021, a modification in his bail conditions allowing him to go back to Hyderabad, and permanent bail on medical grounds. The court had reserved its verdict on all three bail pleas on March 21.
In Wednesday’s judgement, the court directed the special National Investigation Agency court to expedite the trial in the Elgaar Parishad case and conduct the trials on a day-to-day basis, Live Law reported.
The bench took note of the lack of medical facilities at Taloja Jail, where Rao had been in custody, before getting temporary bail. The judges directed the Maharashtra inspector general of prisons to submit a “candid report” on the condition of health facilities in prisons across the state, particularly the Taloja prison, by April 30.
“The IG prisons must ensure that henceforth, there remain no grounds for inmates to raise grievances on inadequate health facilities in prisons across the state,” the court said, according to PTI.
Arguments at the last hearing
On March 21, the High Court had heard final arguments from Rao’s counsel Anand Grover and Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared on behalf of the National Investigation Agency.
At the hearing, Singh had opposed Rao’s plea for permanent bail on medical grounds, saying that charges against the activist were “very serious” in nature.
He had said that while Rao seemed to have been suffering from “old-age related issues”, the investigation agency was willing to give an undertaking that necessary medical aid would be provided to him in prison, or in a government hospital whenever required.
Meanwhile, Grover had told the court that the activist was showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease.
“All is not hunky dory,” Grover had said during the hearing. “Rao’s clinical reports show he has early Parkinson’s and the road from here goes only downhill. There is a risk of a blood clot. Can we allow that? Either the NIA has not read that report or it doesn’t understand the seriousness of such risk.”
On Rao’s plea for transfer of the case to Hyderabad, Grover had told the court that living in Mumbai with his ailments was proving to be expensive for Rao, as he had been spending Rs 96,000 per month.
“If arrests can be made from across the country, why can he not report the NIA court in Hyderabad,” he had argued. Rao lives in a rented apartment in Mumbai since he was granted bail.