The Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed the bail plea of Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao who was arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad case. The court will next take up the matter on November 17.
The court on Thursday directed a panel of doctors from a private hospital in Mumbai to conduct medical examination of the 81-year-old through video link. He is lodged as an under-trial in the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai.
A division bench led by Justice AK Menon was hearing a petition filed by Rao's wife Hemlata, seeking he be shifted to the private Nanavati Hospital for better treatment, an independent medical board be set up to assess his health, and he be granted bail. Rao's lawyer Indira Jaising claimed his health was "fast deteriorating" and there was legitimate apprehension that he might die in prison.
Rao suffers from dementia, is confined to bed in the prison hospital since August, and needs to wear diapers, the lawyer said. If Rao passed away in prison, it would be a case of "custodial death", Jaising said, adding his detention violated his right to life under Article 21.
The high court initially suggested that a team of doctors from the Nanavati Hospital visit Rao in prison. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, opposed the suggestion. It also opposed Jaising's request that Rao be shifted to Nanavati.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, the NIA's lawyer, said prisoners cannot choose their doctors and allowing it would set a wrong precedent. "Tomorrow, every prisoner will say shift me to Nanavati. Besides, we should not underestimate the credibility of our government doctors and hospitals," he said.
The court, however, said there would not be any harm if a video consultation was allowed. "The main concern is to assess the present medical condition of the accused. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of shifting him out of prison without knowing his health condition, let the Nanavati doctors assess," the judges said.
The HC directed doctors at the Nanavati hospital to submit their video assessment report as soon as it was ready, and submit a physical assessment report, if such examination was felt to be necessary, by November 16.
The Supreme Court last month had directed the Bombay High Court to expeditiously hear Rao's bail plea. A three-judge bench of the top court presided over by Justices UU Lalit, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat had noted noting that the bail application has not been heard by the High Court since September 17.
The bench also noted that Rao's medical condition demands attention of a particular character and time. It also said that the matter raises questions on the rights of a prisoner.
(With inputs from PTI)