No Bail, Telemedicine Allowed For Ailing Accused Varavara Rao
Rao's health is fast declining and two of his co-accused who are not medical experts are taking caring of him in jail.
The Bombay High Court directed doctors from the Nanavati Hospital to assess the health status of poet Varavara Rao who is currently incarcerated in Pune's Taloja Jail. The 81-year-old poet-activist, one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, is suffering from several health issues including dementia and had sought "medical bail" and a transfer to Nanavati Hospital for medical treatment.
Denying interim bail, the vacation bench of the Bombay High Court directed the authorities to arrange Rao's assessment "today if possible" through videoconferencing by the same doctors who treated Rao earlier this year in July. However, the division bench of the high court observed that should telemedicine prove ineffective, the doctors must visit the jail hospital to examine Rao.
The bench also orally directed the jail authorities to "set the wheel in motion" without waiting for the order copy. The high court will now hear the matter on November 17.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Rao in August 2018. Three chargesheets, including one by the NIA, have been filed in this case. According to the charges, Rao and his co-accused were trying to "reinvent Dalit militancy" in the country.
Declining health in jail: Rao's wife to HC
Two petitions—one writ petition on grounds of a medical emergency and another seeking bail—have been filed in the high court.
"I am relying on a (July 30) medical report filed by the doctors at Nanavati Hospital to seek relief," senior advocate Indira Jaising submitted on Rao's behalf. Running through a list of dates, Jaising submitted that Rao's health has been in a continuous decline since his incarceration two years ago. The facilities at Taloja Jail are insufficient to treat the medical issues Rao is suffering from, she added.
"Yesterday, Senior Advocate Mihir Desai received a call from his client and Rao's co-accused, Father Stan Swamy, that Varavara Rao's health is fast deteriorating," Jaising said. "In the jail hospital, two of his co-accused who are not medical professionals are taking care of Rao," she added. Among other the litany of health issues, Jaising submitted that Rao was suffering from a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), had dementia, and was on a catheter that had not been changed in over a month leading to other complications.
"Conditions of detention cannot be cruel, inhuman and degrading," she added. "He is bed-ridden. He is on diapers. He can't control urination. He is with a urine bag. His catheter has not been removed. Is this man going to flee from justice?" Jaising argued before a bench comprising Justices AK Menon and SP Tavade.
Pressing her point, Jaising added, "I have faith that his condition has the potential to improve. It is the duty of the state to preserve, nurture and protect the life of everyone, in prison or outside. I have an entitlement to stay in good health. At this rate, he is not going to be fit enough to stand trial which will not be in anybody's interest."
Transferring inmate will set a bad precedent: NIA to HC
The NIA and jail authorities opposed Rao's move to Nanavati Hospital suggesting that it would set a bad precedent. "We treat all jail inmates at the jail hospital all the time. We cannot underestimate the government hospitals and our government doctors," Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, who was representing the NIA said.
Chief Public Prosecutor Deepak Thackerey, representing the jail authorities, submitted that Rao was getting the best possible care by the jail doctors in consultation with doctors from JJ Hospital and Nanavati Hospital. Thackerey submitted the latest medical report which indicated everything was normal. "A urine culture was done on November 2 and everything was found normal," he said. To this, Jaising rebutted that the tests done were physical parameters and not neurological. "Do you have a report of his urinary tract infection?" she asked the jail lawyer.
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