Court allows video medical check-up for jailed activist Varavara Rao
A division bench of the Bombay High Court has directed the government of Maharashtra and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to arrange for a video medical consultation by doctors of Nanavati Hospital for 81-year-old Telugu poet P Varavara Rao, in jail since 2018 in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.
The court directed that the consultation should take place on Thursday or on early Friday morning, and that the report should be submitted to the court on November 16.
The court also directed doctors from Nanavati hospital and the state that if they were unable to ascertain Rao’s medical condition then they should visit Taloja jail or arrange for some doctor to check up on the activist.
The bench, comprising justices AK Menon and SP Tavade, was also hearing a writ petition filed by P Hemlatha, Rao’s wife.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for Rao, informed the court that there was an urgency to hear the petition because a co-inmate of Rao from Taloja prison had talked to Hemlata on Wednesday and informed her that Rao’s health was deteriorating fast.
The NIA, in its affidavit, confirmed that the health of Rao was not good but the doctors at Taloja jail were regularly checking his condition and providing all necessary treatment. In light of these facts, Jaising sought Rao to be transferred back to Nanavati Hospital from Taloja prison.
“There is a legitimate apprehension that Rao will lose his life if he continues to be kept in Taloja jail. The court was not informed about Rao being shifted out of Nanavati Hospital to Taloja jail. No medical report has been submitted after July 30,” argued Jaising.
“Condition of detention cannot be cruel, inhuman and degrading. But it is in the case of Rao. It is violating his rights under article 21 and 32 of the constitution. If he dies in jail it will be a case of custodial death,” said Jaisingh.
The lawyer then sought an interim order to get Rao back in Nanavati Hospital and also to constitute an independent board of doctors to assess the condition of Rao and submit its report in the court.
To a question by the bench on “why not have a board before shifting to Nanavati Hospital”, Jaising responded “Taloja prison does not have the wherewithal”.
Jaising went on to criticise the affidavit filed by NIA and said, “It does not mention his current health condition but only talks about his crime and UAPA. The NIA has not done its homework while preparing the affidavit. It seems the affidavit is intended to prejudice the court.”
Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, appearing for the NIA, and chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare however refuted the allegations of Jaising and said that the doctors at Taloja jail were regularly keeping a check on Rao’s condition.
Thakare also submitted a medical report of November 12 wherein it was stated that all checks had been conducted in consultation with Nanavati hospital doctors.
Singh further added that the agency was concerned about the health of Rao and hence had him shifted him to Nanavati hospital based on the request of the family of Rao. He added that the family had been given video calling access to Rao as and when they had requested it, hence the allegations by Jaising were not valid.
Rao was first taken to JJ Hospital on May 28 after he fell unconscious, but was discharged on June 1. The family had alleged that Rao was discharged in a hurried manner to obstruct his bail plea. “He was not normal at the time of discharge. While Sodium normal range was 134-145, he attained only 133 and potassium normal range was 3.5 to 5.0, he attained only 3.55, according to the hospital record. But, later on June 2 it was proved that all this – admission in hospital, getting a normal report, getting him discharged – was part of conspiracy by the police. June 2 was the date of hearing on his bail application on health grounds in the NIA Special Sessions Court and police argued against his bail showing this hospital “normal” report. The judge accepted that and refused bail on June 26,” the family had then issued a statement
Rao continued to show signs of delirium and after voices were raised from various quarters, Rao was admitted to JJ Hospital again on July 13. Later he was shifted to St George’s Hospital after he tested positive for Covid-19.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also intervened and issued notices to the Maharashtra government asking it to ensure Rao is taken care of and adequate medical facilities are arranged. It had also asked for a report on Rao’s health.
The commission had observed that the right to life and medical care is one of the basic human rights and the state is duty bound to provide the same to a prisoner as well. Maharashtra state has been directed to constitute a medical board to examine Rao’s health, provide him the best possible treatment and bear the cost for the same. Rao was then moved to Nanavati hospital for treatment. He was shifted back to Taloja jail on August 28.