The Bombay High Court was informed on Wednesday that the conditions of poet Varavara Rao’s detention were “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”, reported PTI. The 81-year-old is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, and has been lodged in the Taloja Prison in Mumbai.
The counsel of the poet’s wife, P Hemlatha, and senior lawyer Indira Jaising urged the court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 226 (power of high courts to issue certain writs) of the Constitution.
“I am submitting that there is violation of right to life and dignity...The conditions of his [Rao’s] detention are cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Jaising said. “The right to health and dignity is a faucet, a fundamental right under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The right to life and dignity is fundamental right under Article 21.”
The submissions were made before a bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale. However, following Jaising’s submission, the court said that such claims to fundamental rights were “general submissions”, according to PTI.
The counsel for the poet’s wife for the first time suggested that he should be released on temporary bail for three months, and that his conduct can be monitored. Rao can be asked to report to an authority after which he may be allowed to stay on bail, the counsel suggested, reported Live Law.
“He can report to an authority the court deems fit because it is also in the prosecution’s interest that he be fit for trial,” advocate Anand Grover, also representing Rao, said.
The counsel on Tuesday asked the Bombay High Court to grant him bail on medical grounds, submitting that the Taloja Prison hospital lacks adequate infrastructure to treat him. In a hearing on January 13, the National Investigation Agency had submitted the health report of Rao from Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital, where he is currently admitted. The court had asked the NIA and Maharashtra government to keep in mind Rao’s age and health conditions, while making submissions in the bail plea.
On Tuesday, Grover said Rao was suffering from kidney failure and a host of other ailments for which he was being administered around 20 different medicines a day when he was admitted at the Taloja Prison hospital. He said the medicines were for serious health problems like heart ailments, blood pressure, and recurring delirium with dementia-like symptoms.
Rao was shifted to Nanavati Hospital, after the High Court on November 18 observed that he was “almost on deathbed”. Since then, the court has extended his stay in the hospital on December 15, December 21 and then on January 7. The NIA has, however, maintained that he was fit to be shifted back to Taloja Jail, where he was lodged before being hospitalised.
Bhima Koregaon case
Rao was taken into custody for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon case on November 17, 2018, after spending days under house arrest. He is 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 between Maratha and Dalit groups near Bhima Koregaon village on January 1, 2018.
Since his arrest, Rao has been in and out of hospitals, owing to his poor health. On July 16 last year, the activist had tested positive for coronavirus, after which he was shifted to Nanavati Hospital. He was discharged following a final assessment report on July 30 and sent back to the Taloja Prison.
On November 18, the Bombay High Court had noted that the octogenarian poet suffered from neurological ailments and needed post-Covid care. “A person was on death bed and in such circumstances the state government cannot say that he should be treated in the jail,” the court had said. Following this, the Maharashtra government had agreed to shift Rao from Taloja Prison to the Nanavati Hospital and bear the expenses of his treatment.