The National Human Rights Commission on Friday sent notices to the Chief Secretary and the Director General (Prisons), Maharashtra, over the deteriorating health condition of Telugu poet Varavara Rao. People close to the activist’s family shared the order with The NHRC has sought a report from the authorities concerned within two weeks.

The activist, who has been imprisoned in Mumbai’s Taloja jail since 2018 in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, had tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Rao was moved to Mumbai’s JJ Hospital from the prison on Monday. Thousands of people had urged the authorities to ensure he got medical care, amid reports of his deteriorating health, especially given the coronavirus crisis.

The human rights’ body said the right to life and medical care is one of the basic human rights and the state was duty bound to provide appropriate medical care to a prisoner in its custody. It made the observations on a complaint filed by Maja Daruwala, a special monitor of the commission.

“There were several communications received earlier, informing that Rao’s health condition was deteriorating and that the authorities were ignoring the issue,” the order said. “His health condition had already been worrisome and now that he has tested positive for Covid-19, danger to his life has grown bigger which is a matter of concern.”

The NHRC order directed the chief secretary of Maharashtra to look into the matter personally to ensure that Rao is shifted to the best possible Covid hospital on Friday itself. It added that the cost of Rao’s treatment must be borne by the state as he was an undertrial prisoner and so, its responsibility.

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In the complaint, Daruwala had mentioned that Rao was suffering from many ailments due to which his health was deteriorating. Rao was unable to walk and the jail authorities are allegedly not providing him the requisite healthcare, she had said.

The human rights body said that it had on July 13 told the chief secretary and the director general of Maharashtra that a medical board must be constituted to examine Rao, and to see whether he was being provided appropriate treatment. The board was also expected to decide whether a government or private hospital would provide the best treatment for Rao. But the report is yet to be received, the NHRC said.

“The commission has already taken cognizance of the matter and the report called for from the state authorities is yet to be received but the further developments in the matter are serious in nature, forcing the Commission to consider all the facts minutely,” it said. “The Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra is expected to submit the compliance report, immediately. He is also directed to submit the requisite report called for by the Commission vide its earlier proceedings dated July 13 within the stipulated time.”

Rao has been lodged at the Taloja jail since his arrest on August 31, 2018, and is still awaiting trial. On Sunday, Rao’s family had held a press conference at which they expressed grave concern about his failing health.