HC asks Maharashtra, NIA to respond to plea by Gonsalves and Teltumbde to be tested for Covid-19
The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday asked the Maharashtra government and National Investigation Agency (NIA) to respond to a petition filed by activists Vernon Gonsalves and Dr. Anand Teltumbde, who are lodged in Navi Mumbai’s Taloja Jail in connection with 2018 Elgar Parishad/Bhima Koregaon case, seeking directions to authorities to make the undertrials undergo coronavirus disease (Covid-19) tests.
The activists are booked under the stringent The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPAA), 2019, for their alleged links with the outlawed Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist) and for organsing the Elgar Parishad event.
They sought to undergo the Covid-19 tests, as they were in close touch with Telugu poet and social activist and a fellow accused in the case, P Varavara Rao (81), who was found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease, at Sir JJ Hospital on July 16.
They stated in their plea that they want to undergo Covid-19 tests for their own safety and that of other inmates.
Gonsalves was in close touch with Rao, as he was assigned to take care of him because of his failing health condition. The plea was moved after Rao tested Covid-19 positive.
The plea also made a case for Dr. Teltumbde to undergo the Covid-19 test because he, too, was admitted to Sir JJ Hospital.
Gonsalves is suffering from multiple health issues, including hypertension. While Dr. Teltumbde has a host of chronic health conditions such as bronchitis asthma, cervical spondylitis, supraspinatus tendinosis and he is susceptible to Covid-19.
A two-member HC division bench, comprising Justices SS Shinde and SP Tavade, while hearing the application of Gonsalves and Dr. Teltumbde was informed by senior advocate Mihir Desai that the accused were not seeking interim bail but only asking for permission to get themselves tested for Covid-19, as they were in touch with an infected Rao.
The petition, filed through advocate Devyanii Kulkarni, said both the accused are suffering from multiple health issues and they are apprehensive that they might have contracted SARS-CoV-2 from Rao.
Additional Solicitor general Anil Singh, who appeared for NIA, submitted that the investigating agency did not have any objection, if the request was granted, but it had to be done as per the norms laid down by various court orders passed previously.
He, however, sought time to take instructions in this regard.
Public prosecutor Deepak Thakare, who represented the Maharashtra government, also sought time for similar instructions.
Initially, the bench remarked that the request of the petitioners could be easily complied with, but later it sought to know whether they would be willing to be confined in isolation centres, if they test Covid-19 positive.
The court said it would not pass any order and issued notices to the state government and NIA to respond to the plea by Thursday, when the case will be heard next.
NIA had taken over the Elgar Parishad case from Pune Police in February.
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 the 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. Teltumbde were arrested on April 14 this year, taking the total number of the accused in the case to 11.