India

Activist Varavara Rao Denied Relief; "He's Bedridden," Family Had Pleaded

Activist Varavara Rao Denied Relief;

Varavara Rao is currently at the Taloja jail near Mumbai (File)

Highlights

  • Varavara Rao has been in jail for over two years in Koregaon-Bhima case
  • The Bombay High Court has denied bail to him
  • The court said the case would be heard again on November 17
Mumbai:

Poet-activist Varavara Rao, in jail for over two years in the Koregaon-Bhima case, will not be released on bail for now, the Bombay High Court said today as his family requested that he be freed urgently because of his worsening health. The court said doctors could examine him via video call and would visit him if needed.

"He is bedridden. He is on diapers... Is this man going to run away from justice," the activist's lawyer Indira Jaising argued before the High Court, saying that his health was fast deteriorating and he had dementia.

The court, posting the next hearing to Tuesday, said a video call with a panel of doctors from a private hospital should be arranged at the earliest. "To assess the present condition of Varavara Rao, it will be appropriate to have a video medical examination. All parties agree that the video consultation can be arranged today or tomorrow morning by doctors of Nanavati hospital who made the July 30 report," said the court, referring to an earlier medical assessment.

Varavara Rao, 80, was arrested in January 2018 and charged under a stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which allows detention without trial for years. His family pleaded that his continued incarceration in ill-health amounts to violation of Article 21 of the constitution that guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. He also contracted Covid in jail.

He has been in Taloja Jail near Mumbai and it was a co-accused, Stan Swamy, who had called lawyers and informed them that Mr Rao was severely unwell, Ms Jaising said.

"I am seeking an urgent interim relief to shift Varavara Rao from Taloja jail to Nanavati Hospital. Ultimate relief I am seeking is that he be set at liberty as his rights are being violated," Ms Jaising told the court.

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She said Taloja jail did not have the infrastructure of a super-specialty hospital to treat a person with the conditions of Varavara Rao and he needed to be with his family. In this condition he could not even stand trial, she told the court, adding that if he died in prison, it would be custodial death.

Taloja jail was in the headlines recently because TV anchor Arnab Goswami was held there after his arrest in a 2018 abetment to suicide case. Mr Goswami was granted bail yesterday by the Supreme Court, which reiterated the principle that bail is the rule and jail is the exception and sent a message to High Courts that they must exercise their jurisdiction to uphold the principle of personal liberty.

Those campaigning for Varavara Rao's release argued why the same standards could not be applied to him and other jailed activists like Sudha Bhardwaj and Stan Swamy, also arrested in the Koregaon-Bhima case.

The case, being probed by the National Investigation Agency, involves allegations of provocative speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed led to violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial.

Varavara Rao and nine other activists were accused of plotting the violence with Maoists. Mr Rao, who headed "Veerasam", an association of revolutionary writers, has strongly denied the charge.