The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Taloja jail authorities to admit activist Gautam Navlakha to a hospital for medical check up and treatment, reported Live Law. The court said he will remain under police custody during his treatment.

The court had initially read an order allowing Navlakha’s plea to be released from prison and put under house arrest. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed it, saying that he has not been able to look into the matter.

The court then said it would look into the matter of placing Navlakha under house arrest on October 21. It also directed the hospital to submit a report on Navlakha’s check up.

Navlakha, 70, is an accused person in the Bhima Koregaon case, which pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. He was among 16 people arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

The activist had approached the Supreme Court after the Bombay High Court dismissed his petition in April to be placed under house arrest. Navlakha had cited his ill health and poor facilities at the Taloja Jail as reasons for his demand.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had asked the National Investigation Agency and Maharashtra government to submit their responses on his plea.

Arguments in court

At Thursday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Navlakha, told the court that the activist was suffering from serious ailments.

“Somebody is in custody, no criminal background,” Justice KM Joseph said after his arguments. “He is aged 70 years and an undertrial in an overcrowded prison. Keep whatever safeguards you want [for house arrest]...Nature of crime is serious. But it is alleged, not proved. If state wants man to die in jail, then...”

After Mehta joined the hearing, the court told him: “Your humaneness is put to test”.

To this, Mehta replied that his concern for the country’s integrity had been put to test and sought time to reply on the matter, saying he has not been able to effectively put forward his arguments.

The solicitor general submitted that skin allergy and dental problems were not serious ailments that warrant house arrest. Mehta added that Navlakha had also told the Supreme Court that he was undergoing colonoscopy, but had not submitted so before the trial court that denied placing him under house arrest.

“Let him be taken to dental surgeon of his choice daily,” Mehta said. “If he has problems, he has to be in a hospital, not in his sister’s house.”

Mehta argued that there was risk of destruction of evidence if Navlakha is placed under house arrest. He noted that the activist has been accused of supporting Maoist activities under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

To this, Sibal sought evidence to support the allegations.

“Their electronic record, that’s unsigned,” he submitted. “I can understand an argument based on facts. These are prejudicial submissions. What is national integration got to do with this?”

Poor health facilities for jailed activists

Navlakha had filed his petition demanding house arrest after his co-accused tribal rights activist Stan Swamy died during his time in custody in July last year.

Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison, was repeatedly denied bail despite his deteriorating health condition. He was 84.

Before Swamy’s death, the National Investigation Agency had refused to give him a straw and sipper which he needed to drink water as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. The items were allowed only after outrage on social media.

Another co-accused, 82-year-old Varavara Rao was admitted to hospital, and later released on medical bail after he argued before the Bombay High Court that there was “reasonable apprehension” that he would die in custody.

In November 2020, the High Court directed Taloja jail authorities to shift him to Nanavati Hospital, saying that he was almost on his deathbed.

Corrections and clarifications: The headline of an earlier version of this article stated that the court had ordered Gautam Navlakha to be released from jail and given home imprisonment. This has been overtaken by subsequent developments.