Bhima Koregaon: interim protection for Varavara Rao extended until March 8

ON Tuesday, the Bombay High Court heard a plea filed by poet and activist P. Varavara Rao – an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case – seeking extension of his interim bail and for being allowed to stay in Hyderabad while on bail. The division bench of Justices S.B. Shukre and G.A. Sanap decided to continue the hearing of arguments on March 8 and has granted interim protection from coercive action to Rao until then.

On February 26, a bench of Justices Shukre and A.B. Borkar had extended the medical bail granted to the 82 year-old Rao till March 3. The octogenarian poet was first granted bail in February last year on health related grounds for a period of six months, with a condition not to leave Mumbai. Since September 2021, the court has extended the bail several times, owing to his ill health.

Rao’s counsel, senior advocate Anand Grover argued before the court that Rao had “serious previous underlying illnesses”, and pointed out that there were “structural issues” in the jail while he was incarcerated at the Taloja prison, such as no allopathic doctor being available.

Highlighting that Mumbai is an expensive city, Grover also noted that Rao is a pensioner who is entitled to free treatment in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and Rao’s own family members are doctors.

Rao had earlier been treated at various hospitals, including Mumbai’s Holy Family and Nanavati hospitals. Citing a medical report prepared on him by Nanavati Hospital, Grover submitted that he still has cataract in both eyes, along with being diagnosed with hernia and early onset of Parkinson’s disease. He said that Rao had also suffered a urinary tract infection – causing electrolyte imbalance which can lead to destability. Grover cited the hospital report to suggest that Rao has multiple neurological issues and needs to be closely monitored.

Grover submitted that three applications had been filed so far on the accused poet’s behalf, including an application for extension of bail, an application for modification as well as an application seeking permanent medical bail.

The bench referred to Rao’s bail order of February 2021 and asked Grover why the bail granted was only for six months, despite the order making observations on the octogenarian’s medical conditions, noting that the order had not been challenged so far.

Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency’s lawyer Sandesh Patil argued for a review of the same. Patil submitted that the prosecution be allowed to demonstrate the scope of review of the bail order.

The court decided to continue the hearing on March 8.

(Sabah Gurmat is a staff-reporter at The Leaflet.)