Willing to shift Varavara Rao to JJ Hospital prison ward: Maharashtra to HC

MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government told the Bombay high court on Thursday that the state was willing to shift jailed poet Varavara Rao to the prison ward of the J J Hospital in Mumbai from a private facility.
The ailing octogenarian poet-activist, who is an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, is presently admitted to the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai.
Earlier this week, the hospital authorities submitted a report in the high court stating that 81-year-old Rao was fit to be discharged.
Once discharged from the Nanavati Hospital, Rao is to be sent back to the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai, where he is lodged as an undertrial.
On Thursday, state’s counsel Deepak Thakare, however, told the HC that the instructions from the state were that once discharged, Rao could instead be sent to the J J Hospital’s prison ward.
“His family members will be allowed to visit subject to the protocols, and the treatment which is given in Nanavati will continue,” Thakare told a bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale.
“These are my instructions, the rest is subject to ASG’s (the NIA’s counsel) arguments,” he said.
Thakare said that following the court’s previous suggestion of taking a humane approach considering Rao’s advanced age, the state had taken the above decision.
Earlier during the day’s hearing, senior counsel Indira Jaising had urged the bench to release Rao on bail and let him be with his family.
Jaising is the counsel for Rao’s wife Hemlatha in a writ petition alleging the breach of Rao’s fundamental rights to life due to his continued incarceration without adequate medical facilities in the prison.
Jaising told the bench that denying a prisoner health facilities amounted to cruelty.
“My apprehension is that his (Rao’s) health will deteriorate in Taloja (prison). My second contention is that his health is incompatible with detention,” she said.
The bench, however, pointed out that the hospital report suggested that Rao had recovered enough to be discharged.
“You say he (Rao) is ready for discharge, but what lies beyond discharge, even the doctors have not said that,” Jaising said.
“Everyone has the right to live the last few years of their life with dignity,” she said.
She urged the court to grant Rao bail at least for a temporary period and impose any condition on his bail that it deemed fit to let Rao go back home to Hyderabad.
However, the court said that the NIA, the prosecuting agency in the case, might raise a few objections to Rao being granted bail.
“Few doubts other side may raise. If he (Rao) is allowed to go back to Hyderabad he may again get involved in the alleged activities…,” the bench said.
“Long back, I remember the allegation was that the plan was to overthrow the government,” the bench said.
Jaising, however, said that the NIA’s apprehensions were irrelevant since this was case of bail on medical grounds.
She also said the charges of plans to overthrow the government were not true.
“They (NIA) claim they have found a letter from someone else’s computer talking about assassination of the prime minister. That is a far-fetched story,” Jaising said.
“Why would I write such a letter and keep it on the computer?” she said.
She reiterated that the court could impose strict bail conditions and Rao would remain “home-bound”.
“Put any condition on him. In our country it is the process which is the punishment,” Jaising said.
To this, the bench said that it had tried to grant all possible health facilities to Rao.
“We have given him every facility we could. The problem is the Act,” the bench said, referring to the stringent restrictions on grant of bail under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) that has been slapped on Rao and his co-accused persons in the case.
“These days, the most favourite charge is sedition. As an observer, I can say that when you are selectively charging people you are undermining the rule of law,” Jaising said.
She also cited several international declarations on human rights and judgements of foreign courts to support her arguments on violations of Rao’s fundamental rights to life, his health, and dignity.
NIA’s counsel Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, however, told the HC that with the state’s statement on shifting Rao to J J Hospital, the defence’s arguments on Taloja being ill-equipped to provide requisite medical care to him, was rendered irrelevant.
Singh will commence his arguments opposing Rao’s medical bail plea, and the writ petition filed by Hemlatha, on Wednesday.

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