Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao, arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, has approached the Bombay High Court for his release from jail, Live Law reported. The court will hear the bail petition at 3 pm on Thursday.
Last month, Rao’s wife Pendyala Hemalatha had moved the Supreme Court for his release. She had said that his continued custody as an undertrial amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment and is violative of his dignity. However, a three-judge bench headed by Justice UU Lalit refused to grant bail to the 81-year-old on October 29. The top court had expressed concern that Rao’s bail application has not been heard by the High Court since September 17, but declined to take any action. The judges requested the High Court to consider Rao’s medical plea at the earliest.
Thursday’s court hearing is significant as it came a day after Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud asked High Courts to exercise their jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. Chandrachud made the observations while granting bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and two others in an abetment to suicide case, saying that personal liberty is increasingly becoming a casualty in India.
During the hearing, Chandrachud said:
“Forget Arnab Goswami for a moment, we are a Constitutional court...If we as a Constitutional Court do not lay down law and protect liberty, then who will? If we don’t interfere in this case today, we will walk on path of destruction. If left to me I won’t watch the channel [Republic TV] and you may differ in ideology but Constitutional courts will have to protect such freedoms.”— Justice DY Chandrachud
The judge also stated that Indian democracy is extraordinarily resilient and said the Maharashtra government must ignore Goswami’s reportage and taunts. “This is not the basis on which elections are fought,” the court said. “If state governments target individuals, they must realise that there is an apex court here to protect liberty of citizens.”
Rao is among the activists and academics who have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day. He was arrested in August 2018.
Rao had recovered from coronavirus in August, and was sent back to Taloja Jail in Mumbai. His wife said in her petition that he suffered from neurological problems and the after-effects of Covid-19. “No useful purpose is being served by his continued incarceration except to torture him beyond human endurance,” it added.
In July, his lawyer had told the Bombay High Court that Rao was almost on his deathbed. “Besides Covid-19, he suffers from several ailments, he is hallucinating and is delirious,” he added.