The National Investigation Agency on Wednesday urged the Bombay High Court to shift Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao to the prison ward of JJ Hospital, arguing that the 81-year-old’s cognitive functions were strong enough for him to take care of himself, reported Live Law. The court was hearing a plea filed by Rao’s wife P Hemalatha seeking bail for him on medical grounds.
Rao is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. He was arrested in 2018 along with several other activists and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The octogenarian, who suffers from multiple ailments, is currently recuperating at Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the NIA, argued that Rao’s hospital reports pronounce him to be “fit enough to take care of himself” as he does not suffer from dementia. “The last report of Nanavati shows he has been doing well clinically, his vitals are stable and treatment is continued,” Singh added.
According to Live Law, the report prepared by Nanavati Hospital said: “It is pertinent to note that our neurologist has certified that the patient has normal cognitive functions, which indicate he is capable of self-care. Based on the clinical parameters and bedside testing, it is apparent he does not have dementia. However, to rule out dementia completely we need to do a detailed neuropsychological testing for the patient.” The report, however, does not recommend any further test.
Singh further pointed out that the Maharashtra government had made a statement before the High Court last week, saying once discharged from the private hospital, Rao will not be sent back to the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai. Instead, he will be admitted to the prison ward of state-run JJ Hospital and given requisite medical care. “Therefore, the question of granting him bail arises only if the court doesn’t have faith in the care that the JJ Hospital will be able to provide,” Singh told a bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale, according to PTI.
Justice Shinde then asked Singh to look at a report prepared by the JJ Hospital last year, which mentions that Rao suffers from dementia. “Go through the JJ Hospital report, it talks about dementia,” the judge said. “Once it is there...maybe it continues in lesser form.”
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for Rao, noted that Rao’s discharge summary from the St. George Hospital also stated he has dementia.
But the NIA objected to this, with Singh claiming that the St George Hospital report is not a finding by an expert body. “Can this report be considered as conclusive proof?” he added.
As for the other report, Singh said, “We have full faith in the JJ Hospital reports, but as per expert doctors of Nanavati Hospital, where he was last treated, it is apparent that he does not have dementia right now and he can take self-care... We have to rely and believe on the latest report by Nanavati Hospital,” according to The Indian Express.
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The court then asked Singh to see the long list of medicines Rao is currently given at Nanavati Hospital. “Just see how many tablets he takes in a day,” Justice Shinde added. “The Nanavati report will show he’s on continuous medical support. Medical assistance is necessary.”
Justice Pitale, meanwhile, asked on what grounds the court should give the Nanavati Hospital the benefit of doubt. To this, Singh submitted that no one had complained about the treatment given in Nanavati. “Why should we doubt the Nanavati report?” he asked. “We have to believe the Nanavati report.”
The NIA further argued that most medicines being administered to Rao are age-related. “Like blood thinners, acidity...it is not their case that he is being given some medicine for dementia,” Singh said, adding that bail cannot be given “on a hypothetical situation”.
Rao complaining of chest pain again, says his advocate
The bench then called on senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Rao, to make his submission on the aspect of dementia. Grover submitted that he was not disputing the report, but even the report did not conclusively say Rao was not suffering from dementia.
He said that the hospital’s observations were based on Rao’s visible symptoms but it was only a neuropsychological test that could completely rule out dementia. “It’s like with Covid,” Grover added. “Where a person may not have symptoms of cold, cough and fever but only an RT-PCR test can conclusively rule out the ailment.”
As for the state’s suggestion to shift Rao to JJ Hospital, Grover said, “It wasn’t even an option”. “All patients are sick, they have bugs, microbes and bacteria, there,” the advocate added. “A patient like Varavara Rao is more likely to fall ill at JJ Hospital.”
Grover then mentioned that in the past few days Rao had complained of chest pain twice and the doctors at Nanavati Hospital had informed him and his nephew that there was a leakage in the valve going into his heart.
Therefore, Rao’s counsel submitted that shifting Rao to Sir JJ Hospital could result in a relapse and, hence the only option was to either send Rao to Taloja jail if he was deemed fit, or to his home in Hyderabad.
The bench then directed the hospital to submit a fresh report on Rao’s heath condition and adjourned the case for Thursday.