Bombay High Court Defers Varavara Rao's Relief Plea Over Technical Issues

Varavara Rao was arrested in 2018 and charged under UAPA, the stringent anti-terror law that allows detention without trial for years

80-year-old poet-activist Varavara Rao has been in Mumbai's Taloja Jail for over two years

Mumbai:

Due to technical problems the Bombay High Court has rescheduled the hearing of a plea to transfer 80-year-old poet-activist Varavara Rao, who has been in jail for the past two years in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case, to a hospital on account of his worsening health.

The court, which was scheduled to hear the matter at 3 PM via video link (to maintain social distancing during the Covid pandemic) asked senior advocate Indira Jaising, who is appearing on behalf of Mr Rao's family, if she would be comfortable with an in-court hearing.

"Yes. I do not wish to delay the matter," Ms Jaising replied.

The court will now hear this matter at 11 AM Wednesday.

In the brief time that the court functioned today, Ms Jaising also hit out at the court-ordered medical report on Mr Rao's condition, calling it a "complete eyewash". She pointed out that the panel of doctors that examined him did not include a neurologist or urologist, even though he had neurological problems and a urological infection.

"This delay is not suiting him (Mr Rao). Nanavati Hospital suggested tests on November 12, which have not yet been done. And the hospital in Taloja Jail (where Mr Rao is lodged) is not equipped to do these tests," she said.

Ms Jaising also pointed out that the medical report was not placed on record till today.

"This is delaying tactic. The report is a complete eyewash," she added.

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In an online hearing last week the court said a panel of doctors from Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital would examine Mr Rao's condition without delay. Ms Jaising had then argued that Mr Rao's medical condition was so poor that there was no chance of him escaping.

"He is bedridden. He is on diapers... Is this man going to run away from justice," she had asked.

Mr Rao's medical condition had been flagged by another octogenarian jailed in the same case - 83-year-old Stan Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease and whose request for a straw and sipper cup to help him drink was put on ice by a NIA special court for 20 days.

Varavara Rao was arrested in 2018 and charged under UAPA, the stringent anti-terror law that allows detention without trial for years. His family has pleaded that his health has deteriorated since and continued incarceration violates Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees right to life and personal liberty. Mr Rao also contracted Covid in jail.

The case, being probed by the NIA, involves allegations of provocative speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed led to violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial.

Varavara Rao and nine other activists were accused of plotting the violence with Maoists.