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New Delhi: The Bombay high court on Monday, September 6, adjourned till September 24 the hearing on the plea for interim bail extension of poet-activist Varavara Rao, and said he need not surrender to Taloja prison authorities till September 25.
Eighty-two-year-old Rao has been held along with 15 other scholars, lawyers and activists in the Elgar Parishad case, with which first the Pune Police and now the National Investigation Agency has claimed they are connected. Like Rao, several others held in the case are ailing. Lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, professors Shoma Sen and Hany Babu, activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde have all moved court citing deteriorating health conditions, advanced ages and the pandemic.
Awaiting trial in the case, 84-year-old activist Father Stan Swamy passed away recently, with several condemning the neglect he suffered under the prison system.
The NIA, which is conducting a probe into the case, opposed Rao’s plea for the extension of medical bail and to shift to Hyderabad from Mumbai, saying his medical reports did not indicate that he suffers from any serious medical ailment.
Rao was granted interim bail on medical grounds in February 22 this year, the first among the Elgar Parishad arrested who received any interim relief. He was scheduled to surrender and return to judicial custody on September 5.
But, last week, the activist, through lawyer R. Sathyanarayanan and senior counsel Anand Grover, filed an application seeking extension of the bail.
Rao had also sought permission to stay in his hometown Hyderabad while out on bail, saying he found living in Mumbai and accessing health facilities there unaffordable. As part of the stringent interim bail conditions imposed by the high court, Rao has been staying with his wife in a rented accommodation in Mumbai.
In its affidavit filed before the HC on Monday, the NIA said, “The medical reports filed by the applicant do not disclose any major ailment which necessitates him to take treatment at Hyderabad, neither it forms a ground for further extension (of bail).”
The NIA, in its affidavit, further claimed the Taloja prison, located in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, had “adequate” health care facilities and Rao can be provided with the”best medical facilities” there.
Contrary to the NIA’s claim, The Wire has reported how Rao’s family has alleged through repeated petitions that he has not received basic human treatment while in jail. Rao has lost over 18 kgs while in jail and was bed-ridden, his family had said last October.
The probe agency also said Rao should not be granted bail extension and should not be allowed to shift to Hyderabad as he is accused of committing a “serious” offence.
When he was granted bail, Rao was undergoing treatment for multiple ailments at the city-based private Nanavati Hospital, where was admitted by prison authorities following the HC’s intervention.
On Monday, Grover told a bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar that after being discharged from the Nanavati Hospital in February this year, Rao had developed three additional health ailments.
NIA’s counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, told the high court that the central agency had filed a “detailed affidavit” opposing Rao’s plea.
The bench, however, pointed out that it had an administrative meeting to attend and could not hear further arguments in the matter.
Grover then urged the high court to extend Rao’s date of surrender till the next date of hearing.
The HC agreed and said Rao need not surrender till September 25, but added that he must continue adhering to the bail conditions until then, including staying within the jurisdiction of the Mumbai NIA court.
In his plea seeking extension of medical bail and modification of bail conditions, Rao said as per doctors of the Nanavati Hospital, he is suspected to have a neurological issue, known as cluster headache, which needs further examination.
Rao further said in the plea that he continues to suffer from multiple ailments, including urinary tract infection with recurrent hyponatremia, suspicion of Parkinsons’ disease, lacunar infarcts in six major lobes of the brain, and some eye problems.
The activist contended that if he returned to custody in the Taloja prison, which was not equipped to cater to his medical problems, his health would certainly deteriorate and he might die.
Thus, he sought that his medical bail be extended for another six months.
“All medical parameters of the applicant go to show that if he is sent back to judicial custody, it will not be long before his condition reverts back to what it was,” Rao’s plea read.
(With PTI inputs)