New Delhi: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday urged the Bombay high court to reject the plea for bail on medical grounds filed by poet-activist Varavara Rao, arguing that his present health condition is stable and that he no longer suffers from dementia.
The poet-activist, lodged in the Taloja prison as an undertrial since June 2018, is currently admitted to the Nanavati hospital in Mumbai.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, told the court that Rao’s medical reports from the Nanavati Hospital, from earlier this month, stated that he was “stable and fit to be discharged.”
He further said that the Maharashtra government had made a statement before the high court last week, saying once discharged from the private hospital, Rao (81) will not be sent back to the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai, but instead, will be admitted to the prison ward of state-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai and given requisite medical care.
“His (Rao’s) medical reports, his present health condition is stable, and the state’s statement takes care of all the prayers made in these pleas,” Singh said.
“Therefore, the question of granting him bail arises only if the court doesn’t have faith in the care that the JJ Hospital will be able to provide,” Singh told a bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and Manish Pitale.
The bench was hearing three petitions: a writ petition seeking Rao’s complete medical records, a bail plea on medical grounds filed by Rao, and a writ petition filed by Rao’s wife Hemlatha alleging a breach of his fundamental rights owing to lack of medical care during his continued incarceration.
His family has alleged through repeated petitions that his treatment, while incarcerated, has been little more than ‘inhuman’. Rao has lost over 18 kgs while in jail and was bed-ridden, his family had said last October.
Following the NIA’s submission, the court pointed out that as per medical reports, Rao was being given over 20 pills a day.
“Just see the list of medicines being given to him everyday. He is sustaining on these medicines. So, he’s continuously on medical support,” the high court said.
ASG Singh said most of these pills were “age-related.”
“We also have old people in our homes and 70 to 80% of these medicines are taken (by elderly people),” the NIA counsel said.
He reiterated that as per the Nanavati Hospital report, “Rao did not have dementia”, a disease in which there is deterioration in memory, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities.
The high court, however, pointed out that Rao’s reports from the JJ Hospital, the Taloja prison hospital and the state-run St George hospital, issued in November last year, all mentioned dementia, and brain atrophy or shrinkage of the brain.
Singh, however, said the older report notings on dementia seemed more like “course and discussions” among doctors to check for dementia and delirium.
“We have full faith in the JJ Hospital but the Nanavati Hospital, where he was last treated, says he doesn’t have dementia right now,” Singh said.
“We believed the Nanavati Hospital while Rao was being treated there. Why should we not believe it then when he says Rao doesn’t have dementia?” he said.
Singh said one’s health condition could fluctuate often and therefore, while deciding on Rao’s medical bail plea, the high court must go by his latest health condition report.
“The Nanavati report says Rao doesn’t require indoor management and is fit to be discharged. This is the latest report, there is no counter or different medical advice so we have to believe this report,” Singh said.
“Therefore, unless the court does not have faith or it feels the JJ prison ward will not be able to provide him (Rao) medical care, only then should he be granted bail,” Singh said.
Rao’s counsel, senior advocate Anand Grover argued that the JJ Hospital or any other hospital was a “bed of infection,” and the ailing Rao must not be sent there.
“The only option is to send him back to the Taloja prison if he is fit, else let him out on bail to be at home with his family,” Grover said.
The high court then directed the Nanavati hospital to submit a fresh medical report with Rao’s latest health condition on Thursday morning and will continue hearing the arguments in the afternoon.
On July 16 last year, he tested positive for COVID-19 after which he was shifted to the Nanavati Hospital. He was discharged from the Nanavati Hospital following a final assessment report on July 30 and sent back to the Taloja prison.
In December last year, he was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital again following the intervention of a bench of Justice Shinde and Justice M.S. Karnik.
Rao is among the activists, poets, lawyers and scholars arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.
(With PTI inputs)