Bhima Koregaon: Human rights bodies must intervene to help Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj get medical bail

The situation has got precarious with COVID infection spreading in their barrack in Mumbai’s Byculla Jail. The Stan Swamy case should not be allowed to be repeated

Shoma Sen (Left) Sudha Bharadwaj (Right)
Shoma Sen (Left) Sudha Bharadwaj (Right)

Satyaki Chakraborty

Bhima Koregaon accused activists Shoma Sen and Sudha Bharadwaj who are languishing in the Byculla Jail of Mumbai after being accused of conspiracy against the state by the National Investigating Agency(NIA), are facing a serious danger to their lives. At least 20 persons have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 at Byculla women’s jail, according to Koel Sen, daughter of activist Shoma Sen. Out of these at least two positive patients belong to the same barrack and there is every possibility of the two accused activists being infected.

Only three days earlier, on September 21, a special NIA court in Mumbai had rejected Shoma Sen’s medical bail application. Her lawyers had noted that she is a senior citizen suffering from hypertension and blood-pressure issues, thus vulnerable to catching and suffering from the serious health effects of COVID-19 in prison.

The application for bail also referred to the May 2020 High Power Committee report which had suggested that prisons be decongested to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Rejecting the application, special judge D.E. Kolhatkar had instead directed the prison authorities to “observe medical protocol and provide appropriate medical aid to the applicant, if required.”

Last year, lawyers for accused lawyer-trade unionist Bhardwaj had also filed for interim bail before the Supreme Court, citing the pandemic and her deteriorating health conditions. Bhardwaj suffers from comorbidities, including diabetes and high-blood pressure, and has a history of pulmonary tuberculosis. However, her lawyers withdrew the application in September 2020 when the apex court appeared inclined to dismiss it.

On Tuesday, 21 September 2021, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai rejected the bail applications filed on behalf of four of the senior citizens accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. Medical bail was sought by the accused activists/academics Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde.

Lawyers representing the four accused argued for medical bail on grounds that the accused suffer from several comorbidities. Advocates for Sen, Sharif Shaikh and Kritika Aggarwal, sought relief on the grounds that she is above 60 years of age, suffering from hypertension and blood pressure, and is at risk of contracting COVID-19. Her counsels also referred to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court ordered-high-powered committee seeking to decongest crowded prisons by releasing prisoners on temporary bail amidst the pandemic.

The NIA’s Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Prakash Shetty opposed the plea, pointing out that similar applications by the co-accused had already been rejected. The SPP said, “Covid is not a concern as such now. The government may not have withdrawn its notification on the same but the situation, we can understand.”

Special Court judge D.E. Kothalikar rejected Sen’s application, and instead ordered the prison authorities to “follow medical protocol and provide appropriate medical aid to the applicant, if required.”

However, the court allowed Rona Wilson an extension of his interim bail from 27 September until 30 September. Wilson, one of the first to be arrested in the case more than three years ago, was temporarily released to attend services for his deceased father in Kerala.

Three of the Bhima Koregaon accused Gonsalves, Ferreira and Gadling were produced in person at the special NIA court in Mumbai. The three argued before the court themselves.

Nearly three years have passed since the leading activists allegedly connected to Bhima Koregao case got arrested and put in jail. Despite deterioration in health, the two women activists have not been allowed bail on medical grounds. Both Shoma Sen and Sudha Bharadwaj are eminent in their own areas. There have been numerous appeals by the human rights organisations for their release on bail.

Now the situation has got precarious with Covid infection spreading in their barrack. There is real threat to their precious lives. The rights organisations and the opposition political parties have to assert vigorously demanding their bail on medical grounds. The Stan Swamy case should not be allowed to be repeated.

(IPA Service)

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