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Elgar Parishad case: P Varavara Rao’s wife moves Supreme Court for his immediate release on medical grounds

By Kanchan Chaudhari, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON OCT 15, 2020 11:36 PM IST

The wife of 82-year-old activist and poet Dr Varavara Rao, P Hemlatha, moved a writ petition in the Supreme Court (SC) for Rao’s immediate release on medical grounds. The petition says his custody amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment, violating Article 21 of the Constitution of India and is violative of his dignity in custody.

Rao was arrested by Pune police on August 28, 2018, for his alleged involvement in the violence that took place at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018, in which one person died and 30 policemen were injured. In July this year, Rao tested positive for Covid-19. Between July 16 and August 28, Rao received treatment for the infection at various hospitals. During this time, Rao’s family alleged mistreatment, saying Rao was being kept in pathetic and unhygienic conditions at St George Hospital, where he had initially been admitted. While at this hospital, Rao suffered a fall and after an intervention by the National Human Rights Commission, he was shifted to Nanavati Hospital. On August 28, Rao was discharged and sent back to Taloja Jail.

According to the petition filed by Hemlatha through advocate Sunil Fernandes, Rao has been kept in inhumane conditions in jail and his health has worsened since he was discharged. A medical report dated July 30, from Nanavati Hospital, says he requires close monitoring due to comorbidities and mentions neurological problems. “It is highly likely that Covid-19 and the fall that he had in St. George Hospital has led to neurological problems,” states the petition, adding that when Rao was arrested, he had no neurological issues.

Hemlatha, 71, has included a letter dated August 31, from Rao, in which he wrote that Hemlatha was dead and her body was in a morgue. “This itself shows the mental status of the Petitioner’s husband,” states the petition. It also cites a letter from academic Vernon Gonsalves, another accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case and a fellow inmate of Rao’s, which says Rao is “basically bed-ridden” and has no bowel or urine control. Rao has a catheter urine bag, which has not been changed in 40 days, according to Gonsalves, and has caused a urinary infection. Gonsalves has been caring for Rao in Taloja Jail.

“The treatment meted out to Dr Varavara impairs the Right to Health recognized under Article 12 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which are read with Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” says the petition, which also questions whether Taloja Jail has the necessary facilities to take care of Rao.

The petition states that Rao now weighs only 50kg, which is 18kg less than his weight in November 2018, and cannot stand trial in this condition. Furthermore, with the National Investigation Agency having made fresh arrests in October this year, there is little possibility of a speedy trial. ”Thus, there is no purpose in detaining him [Rao] in prison any further,” says the petition, urging SC to release Rao temporarily on medical grounds.

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