MUMBAI: Poet activist Varavara Rao, accused in the case of Elgar Parishad-Maoist connections, is fit enough to be returned to Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai from a private hospital in Mumbai, where he is currently hospitalized, the National Research Agency (NIA) told the Bombay High Court on Tuesday.
Rao, however, will remain in Nanavati hospital at least until Monday, the next date of hearing on his bail plea for medical reasons and the plea filed by his wife Hemlatha, which alleges a violation of Rao’s fundamental rights due to “continued imprisonment without proper health care” .
The submission was made by Deputy Attorney General (ASG) Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, before a bench of judges SS Shinde and MS Karnik.
During the day’s hearing, senior councilors Indira Jaising and Anand Grover urged the high court to give bail to Rao.
Grover said the 81-year-old poet has been suffering from inherent medical problems since the time of his arrest in 2018.
He said authorities at Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai, where Rao was housed as underground, do not have the expertise or medical infrastructure to treat him.
Grover further said it would be best suited for Rao’s health if he was given bail and allowed to return to his home in Hyderabad.
Rao would not run away if given bail, Grover added.
“He (Rao) has been tried for 24 cases during his lifetime, which is no joke for anyone, and he has been acquitted in all,” Grover told the high court.
“He was charged and acquitted. He never ran away and was prosecuted and he will prosecute here as well, and that must be considered by giving him bail,” Grover argued.
ASG Singh however intervened to argue that Rao had asked for bail for medical reasons and therefore his advisers should not argue on the merits of the case.
The bench, however, pointed out that the Supreme Court in its recent order granting interim bail to Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, said that “under Article 226, a court does not bind the prayers in a petition”.
“The Supreme Court in Goswami’s trial also said the high court has broad powers under 226. The SC explained that interim bail can be granted under section 226, which was previously a gray area.
“The Supreme Court has specifically said that the high court can grant provisional bail, even when lower courts have not approached. There are paragraphs dedicated to this,” the bench said.
An additional hearing was suspended due to lack of time.
The bench suggested that since several senior lawyers appeared in the case, the next hearing will be held on Monday via video conference.
The bench also said Rao would continue to remain in Nanavati hospital until then.
“The earlier order will have to continue. We cannot break the hospital medical procedure,” it said.
On a lighter note, the bench also asked Grover if he remembers any of Rao’s poems as his advice.
Responding in the affirmative, Grover said, “It’s a legal poem.”
Lawyer Jaising requested that Rao’s lawyers be allowed to meet him at the hospital.
To this, the bench said lawyers could send written legal correspondence to Rao through his wife, to whom he was allowed to meet him in the hospital.
Rao has been out of state JJ hospital in Mumbai and Taloja prison hospital since his arrest in June 2018.
On July 16 this year, Rao tested positive for coronavirus, after which he was transferred to Nanavati hospital.
He was fired after a final assessment report on 30 July and returned to Taloja prison.
On November 18, the high court noted that Rao was 81 years old, suffering from neurological diseases and also needed post-Covid-19 care.
A person was on his deathbed and in such circumstances the state government cannot say he should be treated in prison, the high court said.
Following the observations of the high court, the government of Maharashtra on November 18 agreed to transfer Rao from Taloja prison to the Nanavati hospital and also to pay the expenses of his treatment.
The petitions of his and his wife claimed that he was suffering from several diseases.
Rao and a number of other left-wing activists were arrested for alleged links with Maoists after the Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune on December 31, 2017.