Bombay High Court grants Varavara Rao six months’ bail on medical grounds, but with stringent conditions attached

Published : February 23, 2021 15:07 IST

Varavara Rao being produced at a court in Pune in August 2018. Photo: PTI

Telugu litterateur and activist P. Varavara Rao has been granted bail on medical grounds by the Bombay High Court. Following two hearings in his case, one to grant bail and the other seeking the court’s intervention on violations of the right to health, Justices S.S. Shinde and Manish Pitale granted the ailing 80-year-old Varavara Rao bail for six months upon furnishing Rs.50,000 bail bond.

The bench said: “We are of the opinion that this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief or else we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as protectors of human rights and right to health covered under right to life of Article 21 of the Constitution.” The bail order, however, has come with stringent conditions. Varavara Rao will have to remain within the jurisdiction of the Special National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court in Mumbai; every fortnight he will have to register his presence via a WhatsApp video call at the police station nearest to his residence; he and his family are not allowed to speak to the media and he cannot get in touch with any of the other co-accused.

Varavara Rao is the first of 15 people imprisoned in the Bhima Koregaon case to get bail. The well-known poet, writer and Dalit rights activist was arrested in August 2018 from his home in Hyderabad for his reported involvement in the Elgar Parishad, which law enforcement authorities claim was behind the violence that erupted at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018. His health began deteriorating in 2019. Following appeals from his family who learnt of his condition through the other persons accused in the case, he was shifted to a private hospital in July 2020.

He was diagnosed with a neurological condition among other difficulties and was kept under observation. Unfortunately, under relentless pressure from the NIA, Varavara Rao was shifted back to Taloja jail, where he suffered a setback because of neglect and inadequate medical care. His family and human rights activists demanded he be sent back to the speciality Nanavati hospital for proper medical care.

The bench also said that Varavara Rao must attend all court hearings. He can, however, apply for exemptions when necessary. While hearing the case, the court requested lawyers to be mindful of Varavara Rao’s advancing age and health condition and adopt a humanitarian approach while arguing his case. “You make sure to keep in mind the age and health of Dr Rao. He is above 80 years old. Ensure your submissions take this into account,” said Justice Shinde.

Varavara Rao’s lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising argued that if he (currently at Nanavati Hospital) is shifted back to Taloja, his frail health could deteriorate even further. Indira Jaising submitted that Varavara Rao’s condition of detention was “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. She told the court that his detention served no penological purpose given his age and uncertainty of completion of trial since the purpose of detention is to reform a person.

Among the 15 activists in jail, several are facing serious health problems. Varavara Rao’s bail is a ray of light after two years of bleakness.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor