The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail on medical grounds to 83-year-old activist Varavara Rao, who had been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case in 2018, Live Law reported.
The court was hearing a plea filed by Rao challenging a Bombay High Court order which denied him permanent bail on medical grounds.
Rao was arrested on August 28, 2018, from his home in Hyderabad. On February 22, 2021, the Bombay High Court granted him bail on medical grounds and he was released from jail the following month.
Since last September, the High Court has been extending Rao’s date of surrender. The last such extension was granted in April for a period of three months. However, the court had refused to grant him permanent medical bail for treatment.
The activist then filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking permanent bail because of his “advancing age and deteriorating health”.
In his plea, Rao had said that he suffers from neurological ailments, abdomen pain which could be due to umbilical hernia, and asymptomatic Parkinson’s disease. He also submitted that in the totality of circumstances, the trial in the case will take not less than 10 years.
On Wednesday, a bench of Justices UU Lalit, Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia observed that Rao’s health had not improved to an extent that bail granted to him can be withdrawn.
“Considering the totality of circumstances, in our view, the appellant [Rao] is entitled to the relief of bail on medical grounds,” the bench said, according to PTI. “The appellant shall not in any way misuse his liberty, nor shall he get in touch with any of the witnesses or try to influence the course of the investigation.”
The judges also said that the portion in the Bombay High Court’s April order that limited the extension of medical bail to three months be deleted, Bar and Bench reported. They also said that Rao cannot leave Mumbai without permission from the trial court.
On Monday, the National Investigation Agency had opposed Rao’s plea in the Supreme Court. Santosh Rastogi, inspector general of the central agency, had alleged that inquiry into the Bhima Koregaon case showed that Rao was actively pursuing the agenda of the banned outfit Communist Part of India (Maoist) to topple the democratically elected government of the country.
“The act of the petitioner or accused has a direct impact on the unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India,” the National Investigation Agency submitted in its affidavit. “It is not justifiable for an accused of such offence to seek relief on constitutional grounds when his acts are itself against the interest of state and society.”
The Bhima Koregaon case
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 Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018.
In June, Wired had reported claims made by a United States-based cybersecurity company that the Pune Police hacked electronic devices owned by Rao, and his co-accused Rona Wilson and Hany Wilson in the case.
In February 2021, a United States-based digital forensics company, Arsenal Consulting, had claimed that an attacker had used malware to infiltrate Wilson’s laptop and deposited at least 10 incriminating letters on it. These included a purported letter to a Maoist militant discussing the need for guns and ammunition, and even urging the banned group to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In February this year, California-based cybersecurity company SentinelOne had claimed that Wilson had been targeted by two separate groups of hackers before he was arrested in June 2018.