A special court in Mumbai on Tuesday rejected the temporary bail plea of activists Varavara Rao and Shoma Sen accused in the Elgar Parishad Case, who sought to be released from jail in view of the coronavirus pandemic, The Indian Express reported.

In their bail plea, the activists said they were suffering from multiple ailments and were vulnerable to coronavirus because of their age and medical history. Rao, 80, is currently lodged at Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai, while 61-year-old Sen is lodged at the Byculla prison in Mumbai.

The activists said they fall in the high-risk group as it has been found that older people with underlying medical conditions such as cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes and respiratory problems are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.

However, the National Investigation Agency objected to the plea, saying various bail applications filed by the accused have been rejected in the past and there was no change in circumstances.

It also referred to a meeting held by a high-powered committee appointed by the state government to identify prisoners who can be released temporarily to initiate decongestion of prisons in the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

In this regard, the court said the grounds raised by the accused cannot be considered when they are charged under provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the National Investigation Agency NIA Act.

Last month, the Supreme Court asked all states and Union Territories to set up high-level committees to consider releasing prisoners or undertrials on parole or interim bail if they are accused of offences entailing up to seven years in prison.

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Bhima Koregaon and Elgar Parishad cases

On January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra’s Pune district, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire in the battle in 1818. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the battle. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.

The Pune police conducted raids on several activists in April 2018, followed by two rounds of arrests that targeted 10 activists. On June 6, 2018, they arrested Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut from Nagpur, Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, and Rona Wilson from Delhi. On August 28, 2018, the police arrested five more activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha.

By this time, the accusations against the activists had grown from inciting the violence in Bhima Koregaon to alleged involvement in a nationwide “Maoist” conspiracy to destabilise democracy, overthrow the government by setting up an “anti-fascist front” and plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi. All of the activists were labelled as “urban Naxalites” and accused of being members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The two cases were so far being investigated by the Pune Police, but last month the Centre transferred the Elgar Parishad inquiry to the National Investigation Agency.