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Mumbai: The special National Investigating Agency (NIA) court on Tuesday, December 8, imposed a series of bail conditions on academic and rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who spent over three years in Maharashtra prisons. Bharadwaj, one of 16 persons arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, was granted default bail by the Bombay high court last week.
The NIA approached the Supreme Court against the order and sought a stay but the application was rejected by the court. The Bombay high court granted Bharadwaj default bail after her lawyer, Yug Choudhary, convinced the court that the trial court that had granted an extension beyond 90 days to the NIA to file the chargesheet was not a competent court.
Bharadwaj is likely to be released from Byculla women’s prison tomorrow on completion of bail procedures.
Along with Bharadwaj, eight others – Sudhir Dawale, Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira – had applied for bail on similar grounds. But the high court rejected their applications stating that the applications were not filed on time and hence their applications cannot be considered.
Bharadwaj was granted bail against a surety of Rs 50,000. She has been directed to stay within the Mumbai city limits and to step out, she needs the court’s order.
Along with attending the court hearing regularly, Bharadwaj is also directed to visit the nearest police station – physically or through a video call – every fortnight.
Last week, when the Bombay high court granted Bharadwaj bail, it had directed the NIA to produce her before the special NIA court to decide the bail conditions. Bharadwaj, visibly relieved with the high court’s order, walked in before noon. Her friends and a team of lawyers from Delhi and Chhattisgarh – where she worked for many years – were also present in the court.
Her lawyers argued that her bail conditions should be lenient and she should be allowed to travel as she is a practising lawyer and needs to earn a living.
The court has directed Bharadwaj from refraining from making any media statements on the ongoing Elgar Parishad trial. Choudhary, her lawyer, argued that such a condition would directly curtail her right to expression.
Bharadwaj has also been directed against establishing any kind of contact with her co-accused in the case and from making international calls.
Bharadwaj, who was arrested in August 2018, was first lodged at Pune’s Yerwada prison when the state police were investigating the case. Later, when the NIA took over in January 2020, she was moved to Byculla women’s prison. Here, she has had several health issues and had to make applications before both the trial and the high court seeking medical interventions.
Bharadwaj is the second person in the Elgar Parishad case to be released on bail. Before her, poet and political activist Varavara Rao was released on bail by the Bombay high court in February this year. His lawyer, Indira Jaising, argued for his immediate release owing to his failing health conditions. Rao, who is 80 years old, had spent a large part of his incarceration time in the state-run hospital. Along with the old age-related ailments, he was also infected with COVID-19 and his family had accused the state of not providing him adequate health care in jail.
Rao, a resident of Hyderabad, has been in Mumbai since his release. The high court directed him to be within the Mumbai city limits while on bail. The bail, although was granted for a period of six months, it has been extended from time to time, considering his fragile physical state.
Another accused person, Father Stan Swamy, who was 84 and was ailing with severe Parkinson’s disease passed away while awaiting medical bail. His condition had deteriorated in prison and Swamy and his lawyers, on several occasions, had informed the court about the inhumane treatment meted out to him while in jail. He died of COVID-19 on July 4, 2021.