Supreme Court asks Bombay High Court to expedite Varavara’s bail hearing
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked Bombay High Court to expedite the bail hearing of 81-year-old revolutionary poet Varavara Rao in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence as it expressed surprise that a matter relating to personal liberty of a person was last heard on September 17.
A bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit while asking the high court to take up the matter at the “earliest”, however, declined to pass any orders on the bail plea of Rao, represented by senior advocate Indira Jaising.
The court was dealing with a petition filed by Pendyala Hemalatha, wife of the poet who has been held as an undertrial prisoner in a Maharashtra jail for two years on charges of sedition. He was arrested on August 28, 2018, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence at the Elgaar Parishad meeting of December 31, 2017.
The petition sought his immediate release on bail citing multiple health disorders, including Covid infection and neurological problems, and being sustained on diapers and bladder catheterisation.
Advocate Jaising submitted that there is a violation of right to health of the prisoner and, as such, the court must direct his release on humanitarian grounds.
“Cognisance has been taken so we cannot say detention of the man is illegal. The issue of bail is before the high court. The bail could be on merits or on medical grounds,” the bench said.
The bench at one point wanted to send Rao back to Nanavati hospital for treatment but the same was opposed by solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the National Investigation Agency. Mehta said this would open the floodgates for other prisoners to seek similar concessions.
However, the other judge on the bench, Justice Ravindra Bhat, said: “Health of all prisoners is important for the State. Why should this not be extended to all prisoners?... Question is who would want a death in jail?”
While expressing concern that the matter had not been heard after September 17, the court noted that already two judges had recused from the matter.
“The Nanavati Hospital report is before the high court. It is bothering us that two judges recused and the matter was not being heard,” the bench said.
The counsel argued that “precedence exists on the issue of when undertrials have died due to insufficient medical facilities”.
But the bench was not convinced and said: “…We can direct for the matter to be heard by the HC in two weeks.”
Jaising argued that prisoners have a right to health in custody and the same has been held to be so by the Supreme Court. She stated that the petitioner’s right to life and dignity is being violated.
“We need to see if the jail hospital has all the facilities or not. If they have, then you can’t say there is better facility in England or Nanavati. If its available, then treatment will be in jail hospital,” the bench said, while directing the petitioner to approach the high court which shall deal with the issue at the “earliest”.