New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will hear the Bhima Koregaon case accused P Varavara Rao’s plea for permanent medical bail on July 19 and extended his interim protection till further orders. The 83-year-old, who has challenged the Bombay High Court order rejecting his appeal for permanent medical bail, is currently on bail on medical grounds and was to surrender today. “At the joint request made by the counsel appearing for the parties, this matter be posted as the first item on July 19,” a bench headed by Justice U U Lalit said. “The interim protection enjoyed by the petitioner shall continue… Till further orders,” it said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had requested the bench that the matter be taken up for hearing on Wednesday or Thursday. “If it can be, subject to your lordship’s convenience, kept tomorrow or day after tomorrow and whatever is the protection may continue,” Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices S R Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Rao, said the petitioner has to surrender today and the court may extend the interim protection. “What he (Mehta) says is that the protection can be extended,” the bench told Grover. Mehta requested the bench that the interim protection be extended till July 19. “If for some reason or the other, the matter is not taken up, we do not want a situation where the man is picked up,” the bench said.
The case relates 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 on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city. Pune police had also claimed that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links. The National Investigation Agency later took over the probe in the matter.
In his plea filed against the April 13 order of the Bombay High Court, Rao has said, “The petitioner is an 83-year-old renowned Telugu poet and orator, who has undergone over two years of incarceration as an under-trial.” The plea submitted that “any further incarceration would ring the death knell for him as advancing age and deteriorating health are a fatal combination”.
It said Rao had challenged the high court order as he was not granted an extension of bail despite his age and precarious health condition, and his prayer to shift to Hyderabad was also denied. Rao was arrested on August 28, 2018, from his Hyderabad residence and is an under-trial in the case for which an FIR was lodged by Pune police on January 8, 2018 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Initially, Rao said he was put under house arrest following an order of the apex court. On November 17, 2018, he was taken into police custody and later shifted to the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai. On February 22, 2021, the Bombay High Court granted him bail on medical grounds and he was released from jail on March 6, 2021.
Giving extensive details of his health condition, including his suffering in jail, Rao said the high court order dated February 22, 2021, had contemplated that the petitioner could be on medical bail for an extended period and even permanently on medical grounds, depending on his condition supported by medical examination reports.
“The judges in the impugned judgement and order committed a serious error in proceeding on the footing that because the earlier order had granted bail for a limited period of time, namely six months, it (the earlier bench) was not prepared to grant the bail for an unlimited period of time,” the plea said. It added that after being granted bail, the petitioner’s health had deteriorated and he had developed an umbilical hernia for which he had to undergo surgery.
He needs to be operated on cataract in both eyes, which he has not undertaken as the cost is prohibitive in Mumbai, the plea said, adding the petitioner has also been suffering from neurological problems. “It is submitted that in the totality of circumstances, the trial will take not less than 10 years. In fact, one of the accused in the case, Father Stan Swamy, who was suffering from similar ailments as the petitioner, passed away even before the trial could start,” it said.
The high court rejected the plea but extended the time for the activist to surrender before the Taloja prison authorities by three months to enable him to undergo cataract surgery. The high court had said it had found substance in several claims made by Rao’s counsel on the lack of medical facilities at the Taloja prison and the poor hygienic conditions there. The court had directed the Maharashtra inspector general of prisons to submit a “candid” report on the state of such facilities at the “Taloja prison in particular” and also at all prisons across the state.