Mumbai, Jul 5 (PTI) Priest-activist Stan Swamy, arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds.
The 84-year-old Jesuit priest had been on a ventilator since Sunday after his health worsened rapidly.
Dr Ian D'souza, director of the Bandra-based private Holy Family Hospital, where Swamy was undergoing treatment, and the tribal rights activist's lawyer Mihir Desai informed a bench of the Bombay High Court of his death following cardiac arrest.
The bench, comprising Justices S S Shinde and N J Jamadar, expressed shock over the news and said it was at a loss of words and hoped Swamy's soul would rest in peace.
The Jesuit Provincial of India expressed grief over Swamy's death. In a statement, it said the priest had worked all his life for the 'Adivasis, Dalits, and marginalised communities so that the poor may have life with dignity and honour'.
Senior counsel Desai told the HC that he had no grievances against the court and the private hospital where Swamy was treated, but he could not say the same for the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is conducting a probe into the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, and the state prison authorities.
Desai claimed the NIA had been negligent in providing timely and adequate medical aid to Swamy, and asked the HC to initiate a judicial inquiry into the circumstances that led to the undertrial activist's death.
He said Swamy was taken to the state-run J J Hospital 10 days before his admission to the Holy Family Hospital on May 29 but was not tested for COVID-19 at the J J Hospital.
Swamy's report came out positive for coronavirus when he was tested at the private hospital, the lawyer said. 'The NIA did not seek Swamy's custody even for a single day, but kept on opposing his bail pleas,' he added.
Desai pointed out that since Swamy died while being in custody, the state authorities were mandated to conduct a post mortem in accordance with guidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
While the HC did not pass any orders initiating a judicial inquiry, it recorded in its order that the amended section 176 (1A) of the CrPC mandated judicial inquiry into every case of death in custody.
If the same provision was applicable in the present case, the state and prosecuting agencies would have to comply with the same, the HC said.
The court directed the state authorities to complete all formalities and hand over Swamy's body to his associate, Father Frazer Mascarenhas.
The directive came after Desai told the court that while normally a dead body was handed over to one's family, Swamy was a priest and had no family. “The Jesuits were his only family,” he said.
The HC said Swamy's funeral will be held in Mumbai in accordance with the COVID-19 protocols applicable in the city.
Earlier in the day, the bench was presiding over an urgent application moved by Desai to hear Swamy's medical bail plea.
The bench began the hearing asking for Swamy's latest medical reports from the hospital authorities, when the NIA intervened objecting to the urgent mentioning.
Desai intervened, urging the HC to let Dr D'souza address the court for “just a minute'.
The court was then told that Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest on July 4 early morning.
“He was put on a ventilator then, but he never regained consciousness following the cardiac arrest. He was finally declared dead this afternoon,” Dr Dsouza told the court.
The doctor said Swamy had recovered from COVID-19, but had lung complications, and was also a known case of Parkinson's disease. 'A possible combination of these led to septicemia,' Dr D'Souza told the HC.
Offering condolences to Desai, the bench said, “We are all very shocked. What to now say further? We appreciate your efforts. You made him (Swamy) agree to get admitted to the hospital and he got the best medical treatment. Unfortunately, he could not survive.” Swamy was first lodged in the Taloja prison hospital in neighbouring Navi Mumbai as an undertrial since his arrest in October 2020. After the HC's orders, he was shifted to the Holy Family Hospital in May this year. The cost of his treatment there was being borne by his associates.
Swamy had refused admission to the J J Hospital and had said if things continued the way they were, he 'would die soon'. “I would rather suffer, possibly die very soon, if this were to go on. My deterioration is more powerful than the small tablets that the J J Hospital gives me,” he had told the court.
He had said he wished to go to Ranchi to be among his people.
He had approached the HC earlier this year, challenging the order of a special court from March last year that denied him bail both on merits and medical grounds.
He had told the HC that he suffered from advanced stages of the Parkinson's disease and various other ailments.
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. PTI AYA SP GK VT 5/26/2021 5/26/2021