The Bombay High Court on Monday sought to know from the National Investigation Agency and State government regarding the health condition of 81-year-old Telugu poet Varavara Rao, one of the eleven accused in Bhima Koregaon case, who tested positive for Covid-19 and was shifted to Nanavati Hospital on Sunday.
Division bench of Justice SS Shinde and Justice SP Tavade was hearing Rao's petition challenging Special court's order refusing bail to him on medical grounds. Another petition filed on Rao's behalf of Rao sought Court also enquired from NIA and the State whether Rao's family could see him from a reasonable distance.
Appearing on behalf of Rao, Advocates R Sathyanarayanan and Advocate Sudep Pasbola submitted that Rao's condition was extremely critical as he is suffering from various ailments apart from being Covid-19 positive. Thus, Rao's bail was sought so that he can spend time with his family. More importantly, it was submitted that Rao hit his head on the hospital bed and sustained severe injuries at JJ Hospital. Adv Pasbola said-
"His condition is very serious. He hit his head against the hospital bed while he was at the JJ hospital and sustained severe injuries. Besides Covid-19, he suffers from several ailments, he is hallucinating and is delirious. Let him be in the presence of his family members."
However, the bench asked if Rao's health is declining then taking him out of the hospital would prove to be counterproductive. Also, how can he meet his family if he has Covid-19, Justice Shinde said.
Rao's counsel stated that his family may be allowed to see him from a reasonable distance. To this, Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare said that video conferencing facilities can be arranged for Rao's family instead.
Whereas, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, argued that Rao had been admitted to one of the best multi-speciality hospitals in the city and that he was being taken care of in accordance with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines.
Thus, the bench finally asked the State and NIA to file their replies regarding Rao's health condition and clarify whether his family members could see him from a reasonable distance by July 22.
Meanwhile, Rao's co-accused, Vernon Gonsalves and Anand Teltumbde, who were also lodged at Taloja jail, filed a writ petition seeking directions to the State to test them for Covid-19 as they came in close contact with Rao. This matter came up for hearing before the same bench.
Court directed the State and NIA to conduct the Covid-19 swab test and inform them regarding the same by July 23.
Moreover, tribal rights activist and unionist Sudha Bharadwaj's plea for bail on medical grounds was also heard today by the same bench. The matter was adjourned after the bench concluded that the report filed by the Superintendent, Byculla women's prison was "illegible". This case will be heard on July 23 as well.
On the other hand, Rao's immediate family, his wife P Hemlatha and three daughters, in a press release stated that the news about his health condition, particularly the head injury he suffered by the time he was brought to Nanavati Hospital, was not disclosed to the family members, who got to know about it through newspapers.
"Not sharing health updates of a person in judicial custody with his family is illegal, unconstitutional and inhuman.
Today's news that he suffered a head injury whether in JJ Hospital or St George, but discovered on arrival at Nanavati, made us highly perturbed and worried about his safety and well-being. It is the family's right to get official transparent updates on his health status, line of treatment and probable risks, but the concerned prison, police and health administrations in a gross dereliction of their duties have not come out to family with the much needed information. This is not only a gross violation of the family's right to information, but also a grave misconduct on the part of the state government institutions."
Finally, demands have been made to the State government to allow one family member as Rao's attendant and directions have been sought for the hospital administration to provide regular updates, at least once a day to Rao's family. Also, access to all of Rao's medical records has been sought.