Bombay HC Asks Jesuit Group to File New Plea if They Want Stan Swamy's Name Cleared

Swamy died while his appeal in the high court against the NIA special court's order denying him bail was pending.

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New Delhi: The Bombay high court on Wednesday asked the lawyers of late Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy to file a fresh petition against observations made by a special National Investigation Agency court against him in the Elgar Parishad case.

A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal was hearing an interim application filed by Swamy’s lawyer, senior counsel Mihir Desai, on behalf of the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province (JJP), which is pursuing his case as his next-of-kin.

The JJP had sought that priest and Swamy’s associate father Frazer Mascarenhas be considered his next-of-kin for litigation. They wanted to clear Swamy’s name in the case, they said.

“Article 21 (Right to dignity) of the Constitution equally applies to deceased persons and just as the Appellant(Father Swamy) would have had a right to clear his name if he were alive, similarly those closest to him would have a similar right to clear his name,” Desai said in the court, according to LiveLaw.

Swamy died in a private hospital in Mumbai on July 5 this year, waiting for the trial in the case to begin. Earlier, in March this year, a special NIA court had rejected Swamy’s bail plea, observing that there was prima facie evidence against him.

Swamy died while his appeal in the high court against the special court’s order was pending.

The NIA had accused Swamy of being a member of the banned CPI (Maoist) and conspiring to overthrow the Indian government. Several rights bodies and others – both in India and abroad – have said, however, that the Elgar Parishad case is a “witch-hunt” against human rights defenders and lawyers who dissent against the government.

Also read: ‘Urban Naxals’, Sharad Pawar’s U-Turn and What it Means for Efforts to Ensure Justice for Activists

The petitioners had said the NIA court’s observations amounted to preliminary findings of guilt against Swamy, and the high court should continue the hearing on the appeal and set aside the findings. “…there is a stigma which attaches to the Appellant (Swamy) and will continue to be so attached unless these findings are set aside,” the interim plea said.

After the high court on Wednesday suggested that a fresh plea should be filed, Swamy’s counsels said they will withdraw the interim application and file a new petition.

The high court then disposed of as withdrawn Swamy’s appeals.

Swamy was arrested in the case in October 2020. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease and several other ailments, he was shifted to a private hospital in May this year, where he died following cardiac arrest. He had also contracted COVID-19 while in prison. Despite his multiple ailments and requests to the courts that he be allowed to be with his own people, he was not granted medical bail.

“It is strongly believed by those closest to him that his death was caused (in view of his age and past health conditions) due to his arrest and prison conditions including inadequate health facilities and health care,” the interim plea said.

(With PTI inputs)