The Bombay High Court on Monday granted six months bail to poet-activist Varavara Rao on medical grounds. The division bench of the high court observed that it would be abdicating its duty in protecting Rao's fundamental rights by denying him bail even as it imposed stringent bail conditions.
"With all humility and human considerations, we are of the opinion that this is a fit case for allowing the relief," the high court observed. "We feel that with the condition of the under trial, it would be inappropriate to send him back," it added.
The high court while granting bail has also imposed stringent conditions including that Rao has to stay within the jurisdiction of the Special NIA Court. The poet activist has also been banned from indulging in any activities or those similar to the activities which led to the registration of the FIR against him. "On the completion of the 6 months Rao has to report back to Taloja Prison," Justice SS Shinde said.
The high court had passed its order on two separate pleas – a bail plea filed by Rao, while another habeas corpus plea filed by his wife Pendyala Hemlatha who sought the court's intervention in view of the alleged violation of his fundamental right to health. The court had reserved its verdict on these pleas on February 1.
After the court pronounced its verdict, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh sought a stay on the order for a period of three weeks. The high court however denied his request. The high court then held that Rao would join proceedings as and when required but could file pleas seeking exemption from physically appearing in court.
81-year-old Rao, an accused in the Elgaar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case, has been incarcerated in Pune's Taloja Jail since August 2018. He has been suffering from dementia and had sought bail on "medical grounds". While in jail, Rao had also contracted the novel coronavirus.
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
Rao's wife, Hemlata, had initially filed a habeas corpus plea in the Supreme Court which had then directed her to approach the HC instead. In her plea, Hemlata had sough bail on grounds of a medical emergency. "I am relying on a (July 30) medical report filed by the doctors at Nanavati Hospital to seek relief," senior advocate Indira Jaising had argued on November 12, 2020. She 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, Hemlata had said.
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," Singh had submitted. Singh had added that bail must not be given on a hypothetical possibility of a medical emergency. the seriousness of the offence must also be considered while granting bail, Singh had argued while opposing the plea.
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