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Varavara Rao Can Be Sent Back To Prison, He Has No Dementia: NIA Submits Before Bombay High Court

Sharmeen Hakim
27 Jan 2021 4:09 PM GMT
Varavara Rao Can Be Sent Back To Prison, He Has No Dementia: NIA Submits Before Bombay High Court
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Does the octogenarian poet Dr Varavara Rao suffer from dementia? The question seems to have become the focal argument in petitions seeking to set him at liberty and as both the sides are now arguing on the point whether Dr Rao's cognitive functions are strong enough for him to be able to take care of himself or no.Rao is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. He was arrested along with...

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Does the octogenarian poet Dr Varavara Rao suffer from dementia? The question seems to have become the focal argument in petitions seeking to set him at liberty and as both the sides are now arguing on the point whether Dr Rao's cognitive functions are strong enough for him to be able to take care of himself or no.

Rao is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. He was arrested along with several other activists in 2018 and booked under stringent sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. He is currently recuperating in Nanavati Hospital. If granted bail, he may become the first accused booked under UAPA to be granted bail on medical grounds.

While the prosecution – the National Investigation Agency – wants the court to rely on the last available medical report from the Nanavati Super-specialty hospital, which doesn't mention dementia as an ailment for Rao, his lawyers are relying on a report from a government hospital from last year which mentions 'dementia,' as well as Nanavati hospital's latest report which says additional tests need to be conducted "to conclusively rule out dementia."

According to Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the NIA, Rao can be sent to the prison ward of Sir JJ Hospital, as the Nanavati report pronounces him to be fit enough to be able to take care of himself. The report says, "It is pertinent to note that our neurologist has certified that the patient has normal cognitive functions, which indicate he is capable of self-care. Based on the clinical parameters and bedside testing, it is apparent he does not have dementia. However, to rule out dementia completely we need to do a detailed neuropsychological testing for the patient." The report, however, does not recommend any further the test.

Senior Advocate Anand Grover appearing on behalf of Rao has consistently argued that the octogenarian suffers from multiple aliments. His sodium levels have constantly been fluctuating, with low sodium levels leadings to delirium akin to dementia. He is relying on the same Nanavati Hospital report to say that dementia cannot be ruled out.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Singh argued that the State had agreed shift Rao to Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in November itself, and the court has repeatedly recorded Rao's lawyers' satisfaction with and treatment given.

Referring to the last report of the hospital, which states that Rao is hemodynamically stable and fit to be discharged, Singh said "The last report of Nanavati shows he has been doing well clinically, his vitals are stable and treatment is continued. The report says he does not suffer from dementia."

Justice Shinde then asked Singh to look at a report by JJ Hospital from several months ago which mentions that Rao suffers from dementia. "Go through the JJ Hospital report, it talks about dementia. Once it is there...maybe it continues in lesser form."

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said it was the St. George Hospital discharge summary which mentions dementia.

Singh argued that the St. George Hospital report is not a finding by an expert body.

"The report says delirium- no, dementia- yes. Can this report be considered as conclusive proof?"

The court then asked Singh to see the long list of medicines Rao is currently consuming at Nanavati Hospital.

"Mr. Singh, see the list of medicines he is being given in one day (20). The Nanavati report will show he's on continuous medical support. Mr. Thakre is saying he will be kept with 20 other prisoners in JJ Hospital. Medical assistance is necessary." Jusitce Shinde observed.

Justice Pitale then pointed out another report from Taloja Prison Hospital from November which mentions, cerebral atrophy (reduction of brain cells).

"I have read the reports but it is for the doctors to give the opinion [that he suffers from dementia]" ( relying on the last report of Nanavati Hospital),Singh responded.

He submitted that no one had complained about the treatment given in Nanavati. "Now they [doctors from Nanavati] have said he can take care of himself and he is not suffering from dementia. Why should we doubt the Nanavati report? We have to believe the Nanavati Report."

He further said that most medicines being administered to Rao are age related.

"Like blood thinners, acidity...it is not their case that he is being given some medicine for dementia. Neither is it their case that he should be given medicines for dementia," Singh argued, adding, "bail cannot be granted on a hypothetical situation.".

The bench then called on Senior Advocate Anand Grover to make his submission on the aspect of dementia. Grover read the relevant part of the Nanavati Hospital report.

Grover submitted that he was not disputing the report, but even the report didn't conclusively say Rao was not suffering from dementia. He said that the Hospital's observations were based on Rao's visible symptoms but it was only neuro psychological test could completely rule out dementia. "It's like with covid," he said, where a person may not have symptoms of cold, cough and fever but only an RT-PCR test can conclusively rule out the ailment.

As for the State's suggestion to shift Rao to JJ Hospital considering the apprehension about the lack of infrastructure in Taloja, Grover said it wasn't even an option. So the choice is whether Rao would be shifted to Taloja Prison or home after his discharge from Nanavati hospital.

"We don't send patients [to hospitals] unless it is absolutely necessary. All patients are sick, they have bugs, microbes and bacteria, there. A patient like Varavara Rao is more likely to fall ill at JJ Hospital."

Grover then mentioned that in the past few days Rao had complained of chest pain twice and after an ECG and 2-D Echo test, the doctor at Nanavati had informed him and his nephew, who was accompanying him, that there was a leakage in the valve going into his heart.

The bench then directed the hospital to submit a fresh report on Rao's heath condition and adjourned the case for Thursday.

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