‘Report is Eyewash’: Indira Jaising Pushes for Varavara Rao Bail

Doctors from Nanavati Hospital assessed Rao’s condition on 13 November via teleconsultation, report submitted to HC.

Updated
Law
5 min read
Jailed poet-activist Varavara Rao had tested positive for COVID-19 in jail. 
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The Bombay High Court will continue to hear the petitions filed by 80-year-old Varavara Rao at 11 am on Wednesday, 18 November, including the request to transfer him to Nanavati Hospital for treatment while his medical and humanitarian bail pleas are considered by the court.

The court was supposed to be hearing the matter on Tuesday, however, because of technical difficulties, the judges were unable to hear Rao’s lawyer, senior advocate Indira Jaising clearly via video conferencing. The court will now conduct an in-person hearing on Wednesday morning.

The high court was supposed to consider a report on Rao’s medical condition by doctors from the super-speciality Nanavati Hospital dated 13 November, so it can decide whether to move him to the hospital or not.

The report was only submitted by the NIA and jail authorities a few hours before the hearing, but Jaising argued it was “an eyewash”. She noted that the teleconsultation had only been conducted for 15 minutes, with no assessment of Rao’s neurological condition, without a neurologist or urologist present (even though his primary illnesses were dementia and urine infection), and that several test results that had been recommended by the doctors at this time and previously had not been included.

On this basis, Jaising once again argued that Rao should be immediately moved to Nanavati Hospital where a proper medical examination with all relevant tests can be conducted. The judges will hear these arguments in detail, and the NIA and jail authorities’s response, during the hearing on Wednesday.

Rao’s lawyers had moved the court initially asking for bail on medical grounds, and additionally on humanitarian grounds, arguing that he was suffering from numerous ailments including dementia, and that his continued incarceration amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for Rao in the high court on 12 November, had pointed to a report from Nanavati Hospital dated 30 July 2020 (the latest report on his condition available) – during a time when Rao had been moved there because of serious medical complications including testing COVID positive – to stress the seriousness of his condition, and informed the court that there was “a reasonable apprehension that he will lose his life in prison”.

The poet-activist is currently in the hospital at Taloja Jail, where all the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case are being held. He has been in jail since November 2018; the trial is yet to begin in the case regarding alleged Maoist links and plots.

At the last hearing in the case on 12 November, a vacation bench of the Bombay High Court had ordered a medical consultation by doctors from Nanavati Hospital by video (with a physical examination also to be conducted if required) to assess Rao’s condition.

WHAT DOES THE REPORT SAY?

The Quint has accessed a copy of the report of their tele-consultation which is recorded as taking place on 13 November from 6:55 pm to 7:10 pm. It states that

  • Rao is not suffering from fever, cough, breathlessness or hematuria (ie, blood in his urine); and
  • On video consultation he seems “Fully conscious, alert, oriented”.

However, in light of his catheter being in place for the last three months and his history of urine-related problems, it has also recommended that he undergo an ultrasonography of his abdomen and pelvis, have tests done for urine infections, and have a consultation with a urologist to change the catheter.

A separate biochemistry report from a local lab dated 17 November, appended to the report, indicates that Rao has lower than recommended levels of serum sodium and chloride. Deficiencies in these levels had been connected to the worsening of his neurological condition during his previous stint at the hospital from July-August.

WHAT HAS RAO’S LAWYER ARGUED IN THE COURT?

During the last hearing, senior advocate Indira Jaising had not pressed the bail pleas on behalf of Rao, and focused instead on the requests for interim relief:

  1. To move him to Nanavati Hospital for treatment and assessment;
  2. To get him examined by independent medical experts to decide further course of action and treatment.

Jaising had protested the conduct of the National Investigating Agency and the jail authorities, who had moved Rao back to Taloja Jail on 28 August from Nanavati Hospital without informing Rao’s family or the Bombay High Court. A plea for medical bail was already being heard by the high court at the time, and it was supposed to be considering the hospital’s report on Rao’s condition dated 30 July.

Jaising noted how Rao had had to be taken to hospital multiple times, and had been moved from the Taloja Jail hospital to facilities outside multiple times to receive sufficient treatment. This included the time he tested positive for COVID-19 on 16 July after his condition had seriously deteriorated, which had eventually resulted in his admission at Nanavati Hospital.

“Is this man going to flee justice, a man who is bedridden? He is in diapers, he is unable to prevent urination, his catheter hasn’t been removed for at least 40 days,” Jaising had asked the court.

She then took the court through the 30 July report on Rao’s neurological condition. The doctors at Nanavati Hospital had noted that he had previously been admitted to the government JJ Hospital and diagnosed with hyponatermia – a form of dementia where a person is unable to comprehend reality.

He had been discharged from JJ Hospital after improvement in his symptoms, but the doctors found that he had since then suffered head injuries, had low sodium levels and hence his neurological condition had not improved.

Jaising said she would press the main medical bail plea at the hearing on Wednesday.

HOW HAS THE NIA RESPONDED?

The NIA and jail authorities have contested the claims of cruel and inhuman treatment of Rao, and insisted he has been given the medical treatment he requires.

While no fresh medical reports had been provided to Rao’s lawyers or even the court till the last hearing, the jail authorities produced a medical report dated 12 November itself to the court on the day insisting that his condition was fine.

The NIA and jail authorities had both eventually agreed to the judges’ suggestion of getting a video consultation of Rao conducted by doctors from Nanavati Hospital, and also agreed that they would facilitate any physical examination by the doctors if required as well.

The Bombay High Court had failed to list Rao’s request form medical bail for over a month after a hearing on 17 September. Rao’s lawyers had then moved the Supreme Court asking for bail on humanitarian grounds. The apex court on 29 October declined to pass any order themselves, but instructed the high court to list a petition on these grounds within seven days of being filed.

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