Mumbai: Seventy nine-year-old political activist, writer and poet P. Varavara Rao was shifted out of Taloja jail and hospitalised in the state- run JJ Hospital on the evening of May 28 after he fainted. Doctors at the hospital said that Rao had complained of dizziness and suffered a brief episode of syncope, or fainting.
According to JJ hospital, Rao is stable and is responding to medication. “He stabilised soon after he was brought in. His chest X-ray was taken and it is normal. His nasal swabs have been sent for the COVID- 19 test and the result will be out tomorrow (May 30),” a senior doctor told The Wire.
Rao was moved out of Taloja prisons on May 28, but his family members, who lives in Hyderabad, were only informed a day later. A family member told The Wire that around 8:30 pm, “A policeman from the local Chikkadpally police station called to say that they had received a call from Maharashtra police about his health. The call was brief and we were only told that he had been shifted to the hospital. They said they didn’t have any more information,” a family member said.
The member added that Rao’s wife Hemalatha has been inconsolable since the news.
Rao, who has been in the jail since his arrest in June 2018, for his alleged role in the Elgar Parishad- Koregaon Bhima case of Maharashtra, was, along with other accused, moved from Pune’s Yerwada prisons to Taloja central jail in the outskirts of Mumbai earlier this year. This was just a few days before the COVID- 19 pandemic broke out in India. Since then, the condition, especially in Mumbai, has been worrisome.
While prison authorities had claimed that they have been taking complete care to ensure those incarcerated do not catch the virus, early this month, nearly 170 arrested persons have tested positive in prisons across the state. In Taloja, one undertrial prisoner died on May 9. Two deaths have been registered at Yerwada central prisons and Dhule district jail.
Since the pandemic outbreak, over 17,000 prisoners have been released in Maharashtra. The high-power committee set up to decongest the prisons have recommended a long list of prisoners, who can be released on bail or parole. Those arrested or convicted under special laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), among others, are not released.
The case, earlier handled by the Pune police, alleges that Rao was a part of the Elgar Parishad conclave that was organised at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017 and the “inflammatory speeches” made at the event led to caste violence at Koregaon Bhima war memorial on outskirts of the city the next day.
The case was eventually given a new turn with the police claiming that Rao, along with several other activists and lawyers had plotted to assassin prime minister Narendra Modi. There have been several inconsistencies in the investigation and the case has now been handed over to the National Investigation Agency, which has vociferously opposed the bail applications of all accused even though many have complained of severe health complications.
Rao’s lawyers have moved for his bail citing his age and medical condition. His daughters P. Sahaja, P. Anala and P. Pavana have written to the state chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to release him on temporary bail.
This is not the first time Rao has been imprisoned. Between 1973 and 1988, Rao was sent to prison thrice, each time for his literary and political activities that had irked the state dispensation. But in recent times, Rao had mostly maintained a low profile.
Meanwhile, a special court in Mumbai rejected the interim bail application of activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, another person arrested in the case. Bharadwaj, a 58-year-old lawyer, is presently lodged in Byculla women’s prison.
In her interim bail plea filed on medical grounds, Bharadwaj had said that she is at a high risk of contracting the virus in prison and in her present medical condition, it would be ‘life-threatening’. At least one person has tested positive at Byculla prison.