The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday, December 20, urged the Bombay High Court to direct poet-activist Varavara Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, to surrender before the Taloja prison authorities, saying that several "other old people" in need of medical treatment were also in prisons. The NIA made the submission as a bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and SV Kotwal extended the time for 83-year-old Rao to surrender till January 7, 2022.
Rao was granted temporary medical bail for six months by the HC in February this year and was supposed to surrender on September 5, but he applied for the extension of such bail, stating that he continued to suffer from several ailments. The HC has extended his bail multiple times due to reasons like the need for further medical care, and time sought by the NIA to get him medically examined.
On Monday, as Rao's counsel Anand Grover sought time to file an affidavit responding to his medical examination reports submitted by the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai, the NIA opposed any further extension of time for surrender. Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, told the HC that on December 17, a panel of expert doctors from the Nanavati Hospital, a private medical facility, submitted a one-page document stating that Rao had been examined thoroughly, his vital parameters were stable, and he did not need continued medical treatment or hospitalisation.
"We are not experts to examine or analyse Nanavati Hospital's opinion. Once it says that he (Rao) is fit for discharge, then there is no question of any further extension," Singh told the HC "In jail, there are other old people who need medical treatment. They are treated when needed. Let him (Rao) surrender. His age can't be a ground for extension," Singh said.
However, Grover told the bench that though the NIA had submitted Nanavati Hospital's opinion on Rao's medical condition, and his medical reports, he must be permitted to file an affidavit to inform the court whether or not Rao was in a position to be sent back to the prison.
He said in February this year, the bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale had granted medical bail to Rao, despite a similar opinion from the Nanavati Hospital. "In my original application, Nanavati Hospital had given a similar conclusion. The hospital had said at the time that I (Rao) didn't need indoor hospital treatment and could be discharged from the hospital," Grover said.
But, the HC bench (of Justices Shinde and Pitale) had granted bail observing that Rao's condition was "not compatible for being sent to judicial custody", he said. The current bench of Justices Jamdar and Kotwal then asked what the NIA had to say about the previous bench's observations.
While ASG Singh reiterated that Rao be asked to surrender and the court could continue to decide his application for further medical bail even while the activist is in custody, the bench found merit in Grover's submissions.
The HC noted that the NIA says it is not necessary to analyse the hospital's preliminary report any further and that it should be accepted as expert opinion.
"However, the earlier bench (of Justices Shinde and Pitale) had considered the larger situation, and analysed the reports despite Nanavati Hospital saying Rao's condition had improved and he was fit for discharge. The counsel's (Grover's) request for this bench following the same course taken by the previous bench is justified," the High Court said in its order.
The HC directed Grover to file an affidavit by December 28 and posted the matter for further hearing on January 4, 2022. But, Singh argued that if the process of granting extensions to Rao continued, "he will never have to surrender". "In effect, he's being given bail," Singh told the HC. The High Court, however, said it was merely going by the earlier bench's order.
The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a 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 had claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links. The NIA later took over the probe into the case.