Bhima Koregaon case: Former CICs call for release of Telugu poet & journalist P Varavara Rao
Shailesh Gandhi and Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu have written a letter to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray calling for 80-year-old P Varavara Rao’s release, pointing out several grounds to do so
Two former Central Information Commissioners, Shailesh Gandhi and Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu have written a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray calling for the release of renowned Telugu poet, journalist and lecturer P Varavara Rao, who is in judicial custody for the last 18 months in Bhima Koregaon case for an alleged attempt to murder Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the letter, they have pointed out that Pune Police and State Investigation Teams had investigated the case for around 16 weeks and could not collect any evidence to prove ‘the wild charge’ that this 80-year-old man from Hyderabad had conspired/attempted to murder the Prime Minister.
“It is a well-established principal of criminal justice that the accused shall be presumed innocent until the charge is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Because of lack of evidence, Rao has every right to be acquitted as not guilty. Only awaited legal formality is the final judgment of acquittal by court,” the letter states.
In such an event, Rao deserves at least release on bail, on the above-mentioned strength of legal position, says the letter.
It also points out that Rao should have been released in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in view of his frail health. In this respect, they have called for him to be shifted to a hospital.
Here is the complete text of the letter:
We, the former Central Information Commissioners, request you to release 80-year-old ailing citizen of India, renowned Telugu Poet, Journalist and Lecturer Sri P Vara Vara Rao, who is in judicial custody for the last 18 months in Bhima Koregaon case of alleged attempt to murder the Prime Minister Modi.
Absolute lack of evidence
The Pune Police and State Investigation Teams have investigated this case for around 16 weeks and could not collect even an iota of evidence to prove the wild charge that this 80-year-old man from Hyderabad has conspired/attempted to murder Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Maharashtra Government under your leadership based on the investigation stated that there was no evidence against Varavara Rao and others in this case and also declared that very soon they would close the file. But, at that time, suddenly the National Investigation Authority NIA has taken over the investigation into its hands and again stalled the release of Varavara Rao on bail. So far, no progress in investigation against Varavara Rao is reported by NIA also.
The subject of ‘Law and order’ is in the State List as per the distribution of powers under Indian Constitution, which cannot be taken away by the Centre without any such request from the State or by the Court. The usurping of the case will also mean usurping of the power of the State, which is against the equal sovereignty of States and thus violates federalism. Constitutionally and practically speaking the state of Maharashtra is more eligible and equipped to deal with this local case, rather than any central investigation agency.
It is a well-established principal of criminal justice that the accused shall be presumed innocent until the charge is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Because of lack of evidence, Varavara Rao has every right to be acquitted as not guilty. Only awaited legal formality is the final judgment of acquittal by court. The length of waiting for final judgment is not known. The burden of proof of his guilt is totally on the shoulders of state, which has every authority to discharge when truth of his non-involvement in such alleged attempt was established. The State police tried its best in probing the allegations but what can anybody do when the allegation was not true and because of that any amount of investigation may not yield any piece of evidence. In such an event, Varavara Rao deserves at least release on bail, on the above-mentioned strength of legal position.
Varavara Rao, at this advanced age of 80s, with several health issues, living in Hyderabad with family (wife and three daughters), with his most honest history as a simple teacher, journalist (Editor of Srijana, monthly literary magazine in Telugu) and poet cannot be expected to jump the bail, which should have been the strong ground for granting bail. This is the factual position that entitles him to be released on bail.
Not the least, the humanity demands his release. Before he was taken into judicial custody, Varavara Rao was suffering from multiple diseases like piles, thyroid issue, Prostate gland enlargement, Coronary artillery issue, acidity and migraine synesis etc. Recently he developed some more health problems in prison. It is reported that Varavara Rao fell ill on 29th May and shifted to JJ Hospital from Taloja jail in Maharashtra, which shocked his near and dear. The family members were in darkness about his ill-health until the JJ Hospital released a bulletin that his vitals are normally functional. His health condition should be taken into be considered and the state should kindly allow the veteran poet to spend his rest of life with his seventy-two-year-old life partner and daughters n peace on these humanitarian grounds.
The Supreme Court recently directed release of convicted and under-trial detainees to contain the coronavirus spread by decongestion of prisons. It is unfortunate that either COVID19 crisis, or Supreme Court’s direction did not come to his rescue. Several thousands of prisoners were given either parole or bail to go out of prison, from dozens of jails in India in last two months, though some of them were charged with offences for which 7 years of imprisonment could be imposed on proof of guilt. There are already 3600 inmates in Taloja prison, which has capacity of just 2100, including Varavara Rao, who because of advanced age and ill health more vulnerable to get infected by COVID19. In addition, he is being given just one bucket of water per day, which can hardly be enough to keep himself hygienic, which aggravates the risk of Coronavirus attack. At least for preventing the corona infection, Varavara Rao should have been released in addition to the fact that there was no evidence against him. Instead, the Covid crisis was used to harm the life of this prisoner. He was denied daily newspapers, video conferences with wife were stopped, water allocation reduced, mulaakhaats cancelled and information was blocked.
The family members are not given complete information about Varavara Rao’s medical condition. From February 29 to March 22 he was allowed to talk to his wife once in a week for two minutes after three weeks. His wife Hemalatha could talk to him for just six minutes in all in three weeks that would hardly suffice to enquire about his family, and there was no scope to talk about him. Family continues to be anxious about his health eternally waiting for satisfactory information. The Chikkadpally Police station in Hyderabad called his wife on 29th night and gave just one sentence of information that he was shifted to JJ Hospital. Through one friend of a co-prisoner, Varavara Rao’s brother in law N Venugopal, a journalist, could find that his body was swollen and that he fell unconscious on 28th May. Very fact that he was taken to JJ Hospital suggests his condition was serious, otherwise he would have continued under care of Taloja prison’s medical team only. All these factors further increased the anxiety of wife and daughters, and no reliable details being made available from any quarter.
Non submission of medical report
The Magistrate who is hearing the case is seeking medical report about Varavara Rao, since several adjournments. When the Court was hearing bail petition on 29th the medical team was attending unconscious Varavara Rao. But medical report was not submitted to the court. The court adjourned case again for medical report to 2nd June. We request your good self to instruct the concerned to provide complete details of his health status to the Court, which might facilitate court to grant bail to him.
Hence, we request your good self either to
a) ACQUIT Varavara Rao; or if they cannot complete the trial speedily
b) RELEASE him on Bail immediately, and do not oppose his bail; till then
c) SHIFT him to Hyderabad hospital; if not,
d) PERMIT the family to travel across state and visit him in hospital, or
e) FACILITATE Video Conferencing with wife and daughters, and
f) DISCLOSE complete details of his medical conditions, diagnostic reports.
g) SHARE certified copies of entire file relating to investigation of case, available with police headquarters of Mumbai or with State Home Minister, and the file with file notes of handing over file to NIA, Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India, within 48 hours as this information is concerned with life and liberty of Varavara Rao.
h) PROVIDE medical status report of Varavara Rao to the court on June 2, to secure the Bail.
In this stressful time, we hope you will consider this request sympathetically
Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu,
Former Central Information Commissioners