Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday granted interim bail for six months on medical grounds to ailing poet and activist Varavara Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case.
A bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale took into account the advanced age of Rao (82), his “precarious” health condition, quality of medical aid provided to him in prison, and medical facilities available at the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, while holding that his case was “fit and genuine for grant of relief”.
Rao is currently admitted in Nanavati Hospital, a private medical facility in Mumbai.
He has been in custody since August 28, 2018, awaiting trial in the case, which is being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The HC ordered that depending on his current health condition, Rao be discharged from the hospital, and released on bail immediately after that.
It also refused NIA counsel Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh’s request for a stay on Rao’s discharge from the hospital for three weeks.
The bench said once it had granted bail and once the hospital had declared Rao fit for discharge, it could not grant any stay.
“With all humility at our command and keeping in mind the applicant’s precarious health condition…we are of the opinion that this is a genuine and fit case for grant of relief,” the bench said.
“Or else, we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as protector of human rights and right to health covered under the right to life of Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.
The bench, however, imposed several stringent conditions on Rao’s bail.
The HC said it was mindful of the NIA’s apprehension that once out on bail, Rao might do something to adversely impact the probe into the case.
Hence, it directed Rao to stay in Mumbai, within the jurisdiction of the NIA court in the city.
The bench also said Rao must deposit a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two sureties of the like amount.
It also prohibited Rao from establishing contact, or making national or international phone calls to his co-accused or even anyone else engaged in “similar activities”.
Rao will also have to attend all case hearings, respond to court summons, and make fortnightly WhatsApp video calls to the Mumbai police.
The court also said a large number of visitors cannot be allowed to meet Rao, and directed him to submit his passport before the NIA court.
The court also prohibited Rao from making any statements related to the case before the press, and indulging in any activity similar to what led to the FIR against him.
It permitted Rao to seek exemption from personal appearance before the NIA court.
The court also refused to grant the request of Rao’s lawyer Anand Grover for permission to the activist’s lawyers to meet him.
Once the six-month period is over, Rao will have to surrender before the NIA, or apply to the HC for extension of the bail.
Rao was admitted to the Nanavati Hospital by the state government in November last year following HC’s intervention.
On February 1, the HC closed all arguments in the case and reserved its verdict on Rao’s medical bail plea and his wife Hemlatha’s writ petition that alleged a breach of his fundamental rights due to inadequate medical care and his continued incarceration.
The case pertains to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which, the police claimed, triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.
The police have also claimed that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.