Bombay HC orders medical exam on Varavara Rao for health status; to take up bail plea on November 17
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising pointed out on his behalf that even the National Investigation Agency (NIA) does not dispute Rao’s medical condition in their affidavit
The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed that a medical examination be conducted to gauge the health status of poet-activist Dr Varavara Rao, who is presently detained in Taloja jail following his arrest in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case in 2018, legal news website BarandBench.com has reported.
The Court has added that the exam be conducted via video today itself, if possible, with the participation of doctors from the Nanavati Hospital who had earlier issued a report on Rao's condition. Further, it was clarified, "If the panel feels that the assessment of the medical condition is not possible on video call, then they can visit the Taloja Jail in consultation of the jail authorities."
During submissions today, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, arguing for Rao, had told the Court that they accepted that the hospital would conduct the exam professionally.
Recording the consent of the NIA to this directions as well, the Court has ordered that a medical exam be conducted by doctors from the Nanavati hospital by video.
Pertinently, the Bench has added that if the doctors feel that a physical visit is necessary and possible then the doctors can visit the Taloja Jail physically.
The medical assessment report is to be submitted to the Court before November 16.
The Court has also asked the examining doctors to factor in a medical report issued by the Taloja Central Prison which seems to suggest that the accused is being attended to on a regular basis in consultation of Nanavati Hospital.
The Bench of Justices AK Menon and SP Tavade was hearing a plea moved by Rao's wife, Pendyala Hemlatha, who had contended that Rao's medical needs are being neglected by the State and that he is being lodged under inhumane conditions at Taloja jail in violation of his rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Rao has been in jail since his arrest in the Bhima Koregaon case in June 2018. Rao’s wife approached the High Court after Supreme Court refused to intervene, instead directing the Bombay High Court to hear the bail case at the earliest.
Senior Advocate Jaising pointed out today that even the National Investigation Agency (NIA) does not dispute Rao's medical condition in their affidavit.
Jaising further told the Court that Father Stan, who was arrested recently, had informed through Senior Lawyer Mihir Desai that Rao's condition was fast deteriorating in prison. She went on to contend, "I hesitate to make bold statements, but I don’t mind saying this that I apprehend he will lose his life if he continues in jail. He suffers from a neurological condition, he is bedridden, his catheter is not changed for more than 40 days."
She added that what is being sought is for Rao to be placed in Nanavati Hospital for his medical treatment from Taloja Jail.
"He is entitled to be set on liberty, he is sick. I am only seeking he be transferred to Nanavati Hospital, and an independent medical investigation be called for, to chart out the further course of action for him. We are no experts in these matters", submitted Jaising.
She went on to point out, "After he was tested positive of COVID-19, he was shifted to Nanavati hospital after neither JJ, St George could handle his condition. Thereafter he was abruptly taken to Taloja Jail where he is till date."
"He is bedridden. Do you think a man bedridden can flee?" Jaising added.
She further referred to medical reports which indicated neurological problems that Rao was suffering from. She added, "Rao had suffered lacerated wounds on his head when he was admitted in St. George’s hospital. He is suffering from dementia. His mental condition because of his physical condition was not correct and his condition was not corrected. His neurological status has not improved. This is from Nanavati where he was detected COVID positive. Despite such report, why was he sent back to jail? Even the decisions of NIA to move to the Taloja Jail is unfathomable."
On the legal side, Jaising submitted, "The reason for rejecting his bail was that he is accused under the UAPA, that he is a 'terrorist.' There is a
list of 25 matters wherein he is allegedly accused. Let me point out, barring 2, he is acquitted in all."
Appearing for the NIA, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh submitted, "He (Rao) was admitted to the hospital which is a super speciality hospital. Whenever the family wanted to see them, we let them meet them."
Nanavati Hospital and JJ Hospital are giving treatment, he added.
The Court opined that, as sought by Jaising, a team from Nanavati hospital could assess Rao to evaluate his medical condition. The Bench said, "A medical assessment cannot be opposed by the State. Chief PP Deepak Thakare, what we propose is get team of doctors from Nanavati Hospital to assess his situation."
Thakare responded that Rao's latest medical reports are already before the Court, which the Bench noted indicated that Rao may be in a better condition.
While the Court proposed that a medical examination be conducted, ASG Singh asserted that it may be confined to an examination via video call, lest it set a wrong precedent for other prisoners.
"There are so many inmates and then this will mean that the government doctors are incompetent", Singh argued.
"Mr. Singh you shifted him from JJ to Nanavati because JJ could not handle him", Jaising countered.
"Thakare ask Nanavati hospital if they can make a visit. There is merit in Jaising’s submission. How much can he answer on a video call?" the Court remarked initially.
However, it thereafter opined, "Let Nanavati doctors decide what is best course of action."
The Bench added, "We propose that let there be a video call immediately, let them assess the situation. It is not any officer of the hospital, he should be a person who knows the patient and who was present during the 30th July 2020 report."
Whereas Jaising urged the Court to keep the matter for further consideration tomorrow, the Bench said, "The Court is sitting next on 17th. That is the best we can do."
The matter has been listed for further hearing on November 17, when a vacation Bench of Justices SS Shinde and Madhav Jamdar will sit.