The Bombay High Court on Thursday allowed a medical examination through video conferencing of jailed activist Varavara Rao, reported Bar & Bench. The court was hearing a bail plea on health grounds moved by Rao’s wife Pendyala Hemalatha. The matter will next be heard on November 17.
The vacation bench of AK Menon and SP Tavade also said that the doctors may visit Taloja Jail, where Rao is in custody, if they find it necessary for the medical assessment.
Appearing for the 80-year-old, senior advocate Indira Jaising said that his “condition is deteriorating day by day”. She said the matter pertains to Rao’s fundamental rights of health and life.
“I hesitate to make bold statements, but I don’t mind saying this that I apprehend he will lose his life if he continues in jail,” Jaising said. “If he loses his life in custody, it is custodial death.” She sought Rao’s transfer to Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital and an independent medical investigation.
She also contended that the medical facilities in Taloja Jail are not enough, citing that Rao had to be shifted to Nanavati Hospital when he tested positive for coronavirus in July, and both JJ Hospital and St George Hospital said they could not handle his condition. Pointing out the poor facilities in the jail hospital, Jaising also said that Rao’s catheter has not been changed for 40 days.
“He is bed-ridden. He is on diapers,” Jaising said, according to Live Law. “He can’t control urination. He is with a urine bag. His catheter has not been removed. Is this man going to flee away from justice?”
Jaising submitted that the Nanavati Hospital had earlier given a report suggesting that Rao suffers from a neurological condition and that his situation has not improved since he was released from there.
“This is from Nanavati where he was detected Covid positive,” she said. “Despite such report, why was he sent back to jail?”
The court however observed that a latest medical report is needed to assess Rao’s situation, in order to decide on the medical bail plea.
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.
Last month, Rao’s wife 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.
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.
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.