The Bombay High Court has on Monday granted bail to the octogenarian Bhima Koregaon accused Varavara Rao for six months, on medical grounds.
The bench comprising of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale passed the order in this regard, in two separate pleas – one by Rao seeking bail and the other by his wife Pendyala Hemlatha seeking the Court’s intervention in view of the alleged violation of his fundamental right to health.
During the hearing, the Court had requested the lawyers to adopt a humanitarian approach while arguing, considering Rao’s deteriorating health and advanced age.
“You make sure to keep in mind the age and health of Dr. Rao. He is above 80 years old. Ensure your submissions take this into account,” Justice Shinde told both counsels.
Rao’s wife had initially approached the Supreme Court, which denied relief and directed her to approach the High Court instead.
“We feel that with the condition of the under trial, it would be inappropriate to send him back (to jail). It would be appropriate to impose such conditions. We are of the opinion that this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief or else we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as protector of human rights and right to health covered under right to life of Article 21 of the Constitution,” stated the HC bench while granting bail to Rao for 6 months.
“On completion of six months, he should either surrender or apply for an extension,” the High Court added.
Further, the bench granted bail on the condition that he has to stay within the jurisdiction of the Special NIA Court and that he should not make any public statements related to the proceeding and also should not establish a connection with co-accused.
On the other hand, soon after the verdict was announced, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh sought a stay on the order for three weeks. He contended that the jail authorities are capable of providing all medical facilities that were being provided by Nanavati Hospital. He further sought the court to consider the seriousness of the offense charged against the accused, before granting him bail.
Nonetheless, the Court rejected this plea.
“We cannot stay his release, we will record your submission,” the bench told the NIA’s counsel.
The Bhima Koregaon case
Several activists and academics have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on 31 December 2017, which the authorities claim triggered the violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial, the next day. One person was killed and several others were injured in the incident.
The first charge sheet was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It had named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June 2018. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A supplementary charge sheet was filed later in February 2019, against human rights activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.
The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.
Eight people who have been named in the NIA charge sheet for the January 2018 violence are former IIT professor Anand Teltumbde, his brother Milind Teltumbde, activist-journalist Gautam Navlakha, Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu, three members of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch and Swamy. Of them, Milind Teltumbde has been named as an absconding accused and top operative of CPI (Maoist) in the charge sheet.
Rao was arrested on 28 August 2018 and subsequently charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) along with 16 other academics and activists.
The octogenarian’s bail application was rejected twice by the special NIA court, last year, following which an appeal was filed in HC, in July 2020. His lawyers approached the HC again in November after it was found that Rao was suffering from Urinary Tract Infection, accompanied by a kidney disorder. His discharge summary from St George Hospital had also mentioned dementia.
Rao was admitted to Nanavati hospital from Taloja Prison on November 18, 2020, with the state agreeing to bear his expenses there. During previous hearings, the court observed that Rao’s catheter remained unchanged for three months in the hospital ward of Taloja prison.