Varavara Rao's family demands his release on health grounds, NIA opposes

The NIA said that Rao was trying to take an undue benefit of his situation in seeking bail under the garb of COVID-19 pandemic and his old age.

Varavara Rao's family demands his release on health grounds, NIA opposes

The family of Telugu poet Varavara Rao has expressed concerns over his well-being. They have demanded that the hospital and prison administration should be providing them with transparent and official updates on Rao’s health.

The 80-year-old, who was arrested in 2018 under Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act or UAPA in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, has been diagnosed with delirium - an acute neuropsychiatric syndrome and is COVID-19 positive. 

After Rao’s family raised concerns over his deteriorating health in the prison, he was shifted to JJ Hospital and was tested for coronavirus (COVID-19). After his reports showed that he was COVID-19 positive, the poet was then moved to St. George Hospital in south Mumbai which is a COVID hospital. 

However, Rao’s condition requires neurological treatment which is why he has been shifted again to Nanavati Hospital in Vile Parle from St. George Hospital on July 19. According to media reports, the poet has also injured his head during his brief stay at the JJ Hospital. 

The family has said that Rao’s movements from Taloja jail to Nanavati Hospital were known to them only through secondary sources and they only got official information about him when he was tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Even the information about him being shifted to Nanavati Hospital and his head injury was known to the family through friends in media and civil society. 

“In the absence of official and transparent information, various speculations, rumours and half-truths are also being spread causing further anxiety to family and friends. We demand to know the line of treatment on a regular basis as long as he is in hospital,” P Hemalatha, Rao’s wife, and three daughters said. 

In a joint statement, the immediate family members of the poet asserted that not sharing health updates of a person in judicial custody with his family was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. 

They have also demanded the Maharashtra government to make Rao’s medical records accessible to the family and provide a contact in the hospital while asking the government to allow a family member to assist him in the hospital. Along with this, the demand for his release on health grounds has also been made. 

NIA opposes the bail

On July 20, the Bombay High Court heard the petitions filed by Rao’s lawyers on his behalf. One of the pleas challenged the order of special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court which refused him bail on medical grounds while another sought to know whether Rao’s family could see him from a reasonable distance in the hospital. 

Rao’s lawyer told the bench hearing the pleas that his condition was serious as he was suffering from several ailments apart from being COVID-19 positive. After this, the bench directed the NIA and the Maharashtra government to respond on Rao’s health condition and file their reply on his family’s demand to see him. 

The NIA recently filed a 172-page affidavit opposing the plea of poet Varavara Rao which challenges the special court’s order. In its reply, the NIA said that Rao was trying to take an undue benefit of his situation in seeking bail under the garb of COVID-19 pandemic and his old age. 

On May 28, Rao was admitted to JJ Hospital after he complained of giddiness and was discharged on June 1. The family had said that he was shifted to the hospital earlier in an unconscious state while adding that there has been no improvement in his health since then.

However, the affidavit filed by Superintendent of Police (SP) Vikram Khalate said that the prison authorities had responded in time and provided necessary medical assistance to Rao and the medical report of accused submitted by the Superintendent of JJ Hospital didn’t suggest ailments which required him to have treatment from “multi-speciality hospital”. 

While saying that Rao is a senior leader of banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), NIA mentioned that he has been charged under “chapter IV and V of the UAPA” which narrates a punishment for more than seven years to life. 

The central agency had taken over the Elgar Parishad case from Pune Police in February this year. The case was transferred after the Uddhav Thackeray government expressed that it didn't have any objection NIA taking over the same.

The transfer of Elgar Parishad case also created a rift between the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had stated that he wanted the state police to investigate the case but was overruled by the Chief Minister

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