The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to file a reply to the medical bail plea of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, an accused in the Elgar-Parishad Maoist links case. A bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale also directed the Maharashtra government authorities to file a report on Swamy’s current health condition by May 15.
Swamy, 84, had approached the HC challenging a special NIA court’s decision in March this year when the latter rejected his plea for bail sought on medical grounds and merits of the case. Swamy’s counsel and senior advocate Mihir Desai told the bench that the Jesuit priest was arrested in October 2020 and has since been at the Taloja prison hospital.
“He is in the advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. He has lost the ability to hear. Given the raging Covid-19 pandemic, our request is to at least grant him temporary bail," Desai said. The bench then said Swamy was “certainly entitled to bail", and asked what were the charges against Swamy and at what stage was the Elgar-Parishad case hearing before the special NIA court.
Desai said Swamy had been charged under several stringent sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). He also said the charges were yet to be framed in the case before the special court.
“Though it is nobody’s case that arms or any objectionable material were found in his (Swamy’s) possession, though he is an 84-year-old priest, who had been working in Jharkhand, he has been charged under all possible sections of the UAPA and IPC," Desai said. The NIA’s counsel, Sandesh Patil, told the HC that the probe agency required some time to file its reply. He also pointed out that Swamy had filed the appeal 152 days after the statutory time limit permitting filing of appeals in cases of medical bail.
Desai, however, said on April 27, 2021, the Supreme Court condoned delays for all matters filed during the pandemic. The HC bench also said Swamy had “not gained anything" by delaying the filing of his appeal and condoned such delay.
“We will issue notice and call for the medical report. We will give you the liberty to mention the appeal before the vacation bench," the HC said. Swamy has also filed a separate appeal challenging the special NIA court’s order on merits.
The high court posted that appeal for hearing before the HC’s regular bench on June 14. The HC also directed that the Maharashtra government’s home department secretary be made a party to the plea. The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches delivered 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 city’s outskirts.
The Pune police claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists.