Poet-activist Varavara Rao
Poet-activist Varavara Rao
File Photo - PTI

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed that doctors from a private hospital here should conduct medical examination of the jailed poet-activist Varavara Rao through video link, and even a physical check-up if necessary.

The court, which was hearing his bail petition, adjourned the hearing to November 17.

Rao, 81, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, is lodged as an under-trial in the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai.

A vacation bench of Justices A K Menon and S P Tavade was hearing a petition filed by Rao's wife Hemlata, seeking that 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 released on bail.

Rao's lawyer Indira Jaising claimed that his health was "fast deteriorating", and there was a legitimate apprehension that he might die in prison.

Rao suffers from dementia, is confined to bed in the prison hospital since August and has no bladder control, she said.

If Rao died in prison, it would be a case of "custodial death", advocate Jaising said, adding that his detention violated his right to life under Article 21.

Since his arrest in June 2018, Rao has been in and out of the government-run JJ hospital in the city. On July 16, he tested positive for coronavirus, after which he was shifted to the Nanavati hospital. He was discharged on July 30 and sent back to the Taloja prison, she said.

"He suffers from dementia, he is in diapers. Is this man going to flee away from justice?" advocate Jaising asked.

In prison hospital, two co-accused, who are not medical professionals, were deputed to take care of him, the lawyer alleged.

To this, the bench suggested that a team of doctors from Nanavati Hospital, who had examined him in July, may conduct a video medical examination.

If the doctors felt that a video examination was inadequate, they could use their discretion to conduct a physical examination, the judges further said.

"Taloja is not far. It will be open to the Nanvati hospital to send a team of doctors to the Taloja prison for a physical examination," the bench said.

The report of video examination be submitted at the earliest and if the doctors conducted a physical examination, its report should be submitted by November 16, the HC said.

The National Investigation Agency, which is probing the case, opposed the proposal to shift Rao to Nanavati Hospital or to have his physical examination by its doctors.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the NIA, said that Rao had previously been treated at the government-run JJ hospital and St George hospital in the city.

If the plea was allowed then every prisoner would demand to be sent to the Nanavati hospital (or other private facility), setting a wrong precedent, he said.

"Also, we should not underestimate our government hospitals. Recently, a former CM of the state sought treatment at St George Hospital," Singh said.

The court, however, said it did not see any harm in a video medical examination by the doctors of Nanavati hospital.

The Maharashtra government's lawyer Deepak Thakre submitted a report of Rao's medical examination, conducted by the Taloja prison authorities on November 2.

The urine culture report showed his readings were "normal", Thakre said, adding that the prison authorities had consulted Nanavati hospital over phone, and were advised to conduct a complete blood count test for Rao.

Jaising said the urine report did not reflect Rao's declining neurological condition. The HC too noted that a mere telephonic consultation may not be adequate.

Video examination by the Nanavati doctors was the "best solution in the interest of the accused", the court said.

Rao has been booked by the NIA under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He and some other activists connected to the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune in December 2017 have been accused of having links with Naxals.

In October this year, following a plea filed by Rao's wife, the Supreme Court had asked the high court to hear Rao's bail plea expeditiously.

The HC will hear the plea next on November 17.

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