The High Court asked the NIA why the agency thought that now was the right time to challenge Rao’s medical bail, after having not challenged it earlier.
ON Tuesday, the Bombay High Court while continuing the hearing for extension of Bhima Koregaon-accused activist P. Varavara Rao’s medical bail, asked the National Investigation Agency [NIA] to respond to his plea for permanent bail within two weeks.
Rao, who is 82 years old, was granted bail for six months in February last year. He has filed three applications, namely for the extension of his bail, for modification of his bail order so as to be able to shift to Hyderabad during his bail period, and an application seeking permanent bail.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, arguing on behalf of Rao, informed the division bench of Justices S.B. Shukre and G.A. Sanap of Rao’s medical condition. Submitting that the applicant had been suffering from “asymmetrical Parkinson’s disease”, Grover told the court that the octogenarian poet’s health conditions also caused him difficulty in writing and financial duress.
Rao has been staying in a charitable, Christian missionary-run ‘Retreat House’ in Mumbai’s Bandra. His lawyer told the court that the accused was a retired professor with a monthly pension of Rs. 50,000 and had been facing several hardships while staying in Mumbai, and hence wanted to move to his home-state.
Noting that Rao had already spent Rs. 3 lakhs on his medical expenses at Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital, Grover added that he also spends Rs. 300 for his lodging and spends another Rs. 100 on food daily. He also informed the court that “it was not easy for him to get a house” and that he would have to vacate his present accomodation by March 15. “It is very difficult to find and afford a house in Mumbai, especially for someone charged under UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act],” he submitted.
Arguing that Rao’s health would be better looked after if he stayed around his family and loved ones instead of in an expensive city like Mumbai, Grover also said that the poet would be able to avail of medical facilities from Hyderabad.
Taking note of the court’s observations in Rao’s February 2021 medical bail order, Justice Shukre asked the NIA’s counsel Sandesh Patil why Rao could not be granted permanent bail, noting that at the time of his bail order, “there is a finding that placing the undertrial in custody is incompatible with his health condition and would risk deterioration of his health to a point of no return.”
In response, Patil argued that the 2021 order had been passed at the time of the COVID-19 surge. Referring to the order, he added: ”These findings were based on the COVID situation. Why didn’t the court then and there grant permanent bail? If Taloja (jail) is a black sheep, let him go to any other jail.”
Meanwhile, noting that Rao’s age had “further advanced” and that his condition was found to be incompatible with the conditions at Taloja jail, the bench asked the NIA why the agency thought that now was the ”right time to change its attitude”, that is, after having not challenged Rao’s medical bail earlier.
The court gave two weeks’ time to the NIA to file an affidavit in response to Rao’s plea for permanent bail. The final arguments for the matter will be heard on March 21, and Rao’s relief has been extended until then.