Elgar Parishad case: P Varavara Rao tests positive for Covid-19
P Varavara Rao (81), Telugu poet and social activist, who was lodged at Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai in connection with the Elgar Parishad case and was admitted to Sir JJ Hospital on Monday (July 13) afternoon after his health condition worsened, tested coronavirus positive (Covid-19) on Thursday, much to the dismay of his family members because they had warned of it earlier this week through a press release.
Dr. Ranjit Mankeshwar, dean of Sir JJ Hospital, confirmed that Rao has contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes the viral disease.
“He is asymptomatic and stable. He will either shifted to GT Hospital or St George Hospital. His oxygen saturation level is above 95%. He will be treated with symptomatic drugs,” said Dr. Mankeshwar.
The family in a statement said, “The Covid-19 finding highlights the criminal negligence of Maharashtra jail authorities, who have been repeatedly warned about the danger of the viral outbreak in the Taloja Jail, and the fragile condition of the poet-writer. It is a matter of concern, too, that the trial court handling the Bhima Koregaon/Elgar Parishad case turned a deaf ear to pleas for medical bail, despite the poor health condition of Rao and the threat posed by the pandemic.”
The statement also alleged that the neglect has led to another accused in the case, Vernon Gonsalves, who looked after Rao in Taloja Jail, at grave risk.
Rao’s wife Hemlata, his two daughters and nephew Venugopal had met him at Sir JJ hospital on Wednesday and was appalled to see him “lying in a pathetic condition such as urine-soaked clothes for hours and with little nursing and treatment were available at the healthcare facility”.
They also expressed their apprehension about the move to shift Rao to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)-run St George Hospital, whose healthcare facilities are few and far between.
“This is bad news. St Geroge Hospital has a poor healthcare record. It’s hardly a place, where Rao stands a chance to recover from the viral infection. The only relief for him is: if the Bombay high court (HC), which is hearing his bail plea on medical grounds on Friday, accedes to his request and orders him to shift to a private superspeciality hospital,” the statement added.
Rao had moved the HC appealing against the order of the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court, which had rejected his interim bail application on June 26.
Rao had sought interim bail on the grounds of failing health and susceptibility to Covid-19.
On May 28, Rao was taken to Sir JJ Hospital after he had lost consciousness. Later, he was discharged on June 1.
At that time, the family members had alleged that he was hurriedly discharged in a bid to obstruct his bail plea before the special (NIA) court, a fear that came true on June 26.
The NIA, which had taken over the Elgar Parishad case from Pune Police in February, had opposed the bail plea, as Rao was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, where there is no provision to grant him temporary bail.
NIA had submitted that the jail authorities could be directed to ensure that Rao was provided proper medical attention, whenever required.
Earlier, on January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Pune district, where thousands of Dalits had gathered to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon.
In that battle, the British Army’s Dalit Mahar soldiers had defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire.
The commemoration took place a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was held.
The Pune Police conducted a preliminary probe and claimed that the violence in Bhima Koregaon was the result of speeches made at the Elgar Parishad event.
They alleged that banned Maoist groups organised the event, and a first information report (FIR) was also filed.
In June 2018, the Pune Police arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur, and Delhi – Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, and Shoma Sen – for their alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and also for organising the Elgar Parishad event.
In August 2018, the police arrested four more activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Gonsalves, and Rao.
While Gautam Navlakha and Dr. Anand Teltumbde were arrested on April 14 this year, taking the total number of the accused in the case to 11.