Bhima Koregaon: Bombay HC reserves order in Varavara Rao’s plea seeking permanent bail and permission to move to Telangana

EARLIER today, the Bombay High Court division bench of Justices S.B. Shukre and G.A. Sanap reserved its verdict on the pleas filed by poet-activist and Bhima Koregaon (Elgar Parishad) case accused P. Varavara Rao. The octogenarian has sought permanent medical bail and permission to move to Telangana to live at his home at Hyderabad.

Rao, who was granted temporary medical bail for a period of six months in February 2021, has repeatedly sought and been granted extensions from surrendering. Since the expiry of his bail period in August 2021, he has filed three separate pleas through his lawyers, including an application seeking extension of the interim bail, a writ petition seeking permanent medical bail, and an application seeking permission to reside in Hyderabad during the period of his bail owing to cost of living and medical expenses in Mumbai.

His lawyer, senior advocate Anand Grover submitted before the division bench that Rao was unable to afford staying in Mumbai with his monthly pension of Rs. 50,000 and the expenses being incurred by him were upto Rs 96,000 each month. Grover argued that the cost of living and medical expenses would be lower in Rao’s home state, and reiterated his medical conditions, including Parkinson’s, cataract and hernia surgery that required supervision of a care-taker.

He also submitted that Rao could report to the National Investigation Agency [NIA] court in Hyderabad, adding that, “[The NIA] has jurisdiction across the country. They can start a case in Delhi and investigate in Hyderabad as well.”

The NIA’s lawyer, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh opposed all the applications, and argued that the offence Rao was accused of was “a very serious offence” which , if proven, could attract the death penalty.

Singh also stressed that Rao’s interim bail period of six months had long-expired and even the subsequent period of six months had lapsed and he was now “fit for discharge”, so the question of permanent medical bail did not arise. To this, the bench pointed out the scope of Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which provides for permanent bail in special circumstances (including medical reasons).

Citing section 437, Singh informed the court that the accused should have first approached the Sessions Court before appealing to the High Court directly and thus Rao’s writ petition for permanent bail was not maintainable. To this, Grover said that they had approached the Supreme Court after its judgement in Arnab Goswami’s case in November 2020, and it was the Supreme Court that had directed them to file at the High Court first.

Further, the NIA’s counsel also argued that the doctors at the government-run J.J. Hospital would be able to provide the required treatment and care the accused required, noting that Rao’s medical reports had come in from the private Nanavati Max Super Specialty Hospital. Opposing the request for permanent bail, he also added that all other prisoners were taken to J.J. Hospital and received the same treatment, and a “humanitarian view” would be taken if Rao required medical attention.

Meanwhile, responding to the NIA’s insistence that Rao should have been put in J.J. Hospital, the 82 year old poet’s lawyer stated that Rao had to be put in Nanavati Hospital after an intervention by the National Human Rights Commission, adding that his condition was so dire that the rights body had to intervene.

Following the hearing, the bench of Justices Shukre and Sanap decided to reserve all three applications for orders, and allowed interim protection to Rao from surrendering before the Taloja prison authorities until the final verdict was passed.

The Leaflet