Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
The Bombay High Court on Monday, 22 February, granted bail to 81-year-old Varavara Rao, one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, on medical grounds.
The octogenarian poet and ideologue has been granted bail for six months on medical grounds “in view of advanced age and inadequate facilities at Taloja Jail”.
He has been incarcerated for over two years since his arrest, apart from stints at the JJ Hospital and Nanavati Hospital because of various health problems, including dementia and COVID-19.
The bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale noted that this was a “genuine and fit” case to grant this relief and if they did not, “we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as a protector of human rights and right to health under Article 21.”
The high court rejected a request by the NIA to stay its order for three weeks while it appeals to the Supreme Court.
The order stipulates several conditions for Rao’s bail, including:
- He has to remain in Mumbai and not leave the jurisdiction of the special NIA court;
- He will make himself available to the NIA court whenever summoned;
- He will not tamper with any evidence or attempt to influence any witnesses.
- He will deposit his passport with the court;
- He will not speak to the media about his case.
At the end of the six month period, Rao can either surrender or request an extension of the medical bail. The court declined his request to be allowed to travel to his home in Hyderabad, calling this a risk.
Rao was represented by senior advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. They had argued that he should be released on bail on medical grounds given his neurological condition and health problems, for which there were inadequate facilities in the Taloja Jail hospital. They also contended that he had suffered ‘cruel and inhuman treatment’ over the last year because of the lack of facilities.
The NIA opposed Rao’s release despite his age, arguing that the case against him was serious and under the UAPA, which he and the other Bhima Koregaon accused have been charged with, bail is not to be granted. They had said that the facilities at the government-run JJ Hospital were sufficient for his treatment if it got any worse.
On 18 November 2020, the Bombay High Court had ordered Rao’s transfer to Nanavati Hospital for specialist treatment and an assessment of his health condition. The court then heard detailed arguments on grant of bail to Rao on medical grounds, and reserved its order on 2 February.
Rao was first arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case on 28 August 2018. The Pune Police, which was investigating the case before its abrupt transfer to the NIA over a year ago, had filed a supplementary charge sheet against Rao and some of the other accused on 21 February 2019.
One of the other accused in the case, Rona Wilson, has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court asking for an independent investigation into whether key ‘evidence’ in the case was planted on his computer, following a report by US-based digital forensic firm Arsenal Consulting.
The malware used to do this had reportedly been sent to Wilson from what appeared to be Varavara Rao’s email ID, asking him to support a solidarity statement, in June 2016.