File image of activist Varavara Rao (Image: PTI)
The Bombay High Court on February 22 granted bail on medical grounds to 81-year-old Varavara Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case, news reports suggest.
A division bench comprising Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale said that Rao, who has been under custody awaiting trial since August 2018, should either surrender or apply for extension after a bail period of six months.
Rao will have to submit his passport before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court and will have to furnish a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two sureties of the like amount.
The High Court bench also imposed a condition that Rao should not make any public statements related to the legal proceeding and should not establish contact with the co-accused.
The bench observed that the facilities at the Taloja prison, where Rao is lodged, are inadequate.
"With all humility at our command, keeping in view of the human condition, in view of advanced age and inadequate facilities at Taloja jail hospital, we are of the opinion this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief or else we will be abdicating our constitutional duties as a protector of human rights and right to health covered under Article 21," Live Law quoted the bench as saying.
"We feel that although material on record shows that the health condition of undertrial is precarious we feel that sending him back to prison is fraught with the risk of his presence being used by those allegedly associated with him. The court cannot rule out such contingency and therefore we feel appropriate to impose conditions as necessary so that the undertrial or those associated with him do not take undue advantage," the bench added in its observation.
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 alleged that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.
Rao was arrested in August 2018 and was subsequently charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) along with 16 other academics and activists.
On July 16, 2020, he tested positive for COVID-19, after which he was shifted to Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital and discharged on July 30 following recovery. However in December, he was admitted to the hospital again when his lawyers moved the court citing his deteriorating health.
Rao's wife, Pendyala Hemalatha, had also moved a petition before the court seeking a declaration that her husband's fundamental rights to health, dignity and life, and thereby his rights, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India were violated by Taloja prison officials, alleging that they neglected giving him timely treatment.(With inputs from PTI)