The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Bombay High Court to expeditiously consider hearing the plea filed by the wife of Telugu poet and writer Varavara Rao, arrested in connection with the Koregaon Bhima case, seeking bail for him.
Taking note of the fact that the bail application has not been heard by the High Court since September 17, the top court said Mr Rao’s medical condition demands attention of a particular character and time.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat said the matter raises questions regarding the prisoner’s human rights.
During the hearing, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for Mr Rao’s wife Pendyala Hemalatha, said he has been suffering from various health problems which have affected his capacity to make decisions and mental comprehension.
She said besides other ailments Mr Rao also has cardiovascular problems and suffered from COVID-19 but was taken back to Taloja jail from Nanavati hospital in Mumbai against medical opinion.
The bench told Jaising the medical report filed in the matter was of the month of July, and asked when the bail application was last heard by the Bombay High Court.
Ms Jaising replied that there were hearings on the bail plea in August and then on September 17 but it was not taken up after that as one of the judges on the bench recused from further hearing the matter.
She said despite repeated requests to the court, no hearing has taken place on the bail plea despite medical reports clearly saying Rao is suffering from ailments which compromise his mental ability to comprehend.
The bench asked Jaising if these facts have been brought before the High Court to which she said a letter was sent to the registrar.
The bench said it would request the High Court to expeditiously take up the bail application.
Ms Jaising said her petition before the top court was under Article 32 of the Constitution (right to move the Supreme Court for enforcement of rights) and she was complaining about the conditions of detention.
The bench said once the competent court has taken cognizance, it”s under the authority of the competent court to deal with the issue.
Ms Jaising said Mr Rao was sent back to jail from the hospital against medical opinion and it was a violation of the right to health.
The bench said as the cognizance has been taken, the top court cannot say that the detention of the man was illegal and the issue of bail was already before the high court which could be on merits or on medical grounds.
It said as far as medical ground are concerned, the high court is seized of it as Nanavati hospital report is also before it but what is bothering the top court is that the matter is not being heard after a judge recused from the bench.
Ms Jaising said so much time has elapsed and the man”s condition has already deteriorated and there is reasonable apprehension that he may die in jail.
The bench told Ms Jaising its concern is why the matter is not getting listed in the high court even after more than a month.
It asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta why Mr Rao was shifted out of Nanavati hospital to Taloga jail.
“We don’t like the idea of a fatality in jail,” the bench said and noted that the chargesheet in the case was filed before Special Judge, Pune in 2019, which had taken cognizance of the offence against the arrested person.
It further noted that Mr Rao’s bail applicationwas first taken up for hearing before two different benches and was last heard on September 17.
Earlier this month, Hemalatha had moved the top court and urged that during the pendency of the petition, the 81-year-old accused be released on temporary medical bail and be allowed to travel to Hyderabad to be with his family and loved ones.
It sought immediate release of Mr Rao on the ground that his continued custody amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment, violating Article 21 of the Constitution (life or personal liberty) and violative of his dignity in custody”.
The plea said: “The health condition of the Petitioner’s husband is very feeble and he suffers from various co-morbidities…When the Petitioner’s husband was arrested on August 28, 2018, he had no neurological problems. It is therefore highly likely that COVID-19 and the fall that he had in St. George Hospital has led to neurological problems as reflected in the medical report filed by Nanavati Hospital dated July 30”.
The petition, filed by advocate Sunil Fernandes, said considering the co-morbidity factors of age, persistent hyponatremia in COVID-19 case, the patient will require close monitoring.
An FIR was lodged against several activists including Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and others by the Pune Police in January 2018 after the Elgar Parishad event was held on December 31, 2017 that had allegedly triggered violence at Koregaon Bhima in Pune district the next day.
The police have also alleged that the accused in the case had Maoist links and were working towards overthrowing the government.
Several accused including Navlakha were charged under provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.
Besides Mr Rao and Mr Navalakha, three others — Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj, are accused in the case.