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 - possibly the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India, as per his lawyer - 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.
Swamy the oldest among the 16 accused persons arrested in the Elgar Parishad case and, possibly the oldest in India be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the lawyer said.
Those arrested include some of India's most-respected scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists, and an ageing radical poet, who then contracted coronavirus in prison.
Condolences poured in for the tribal rights activist, with many bemoaning his demise.
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'.
“Heartfelt condolences on the passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
“It’s over. Modi $@$# Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Fr Stan Swamy, who spent his life serving the oppressed. I hope the judges who denied him bail never get to sleep at night: they have blood on their hands,” tweeted CPIML Politburo member Kavita Krishnan.
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.” Arrested by the NIA on October 8, 2020 from Ranchi, Swamy was charged by the Central agency for criminal conspiracy, and waging war against the country under provisions of the IPC. He was also charged under various sections of the UAPA for supporting and raising funds for terrorist organisations.
In November, Swamy, who suffered from advanced stages of Parkinson's disease and several other ailments, made three applications before the special NIA court, seeking directions to the NIA to provide him with a sipper and straw to help him eat. 'I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson's,' Swamy had said in his application.
The NIA had asked for four weeks to respond to Swamy's request.
In December, the NIA told both the special court and the Bombay high court that the state prison authorities had provided a sipper to him. 'Not just sipper and straw, we are providing him other facilities too like a wheelchair, walking stick, walker, and two attendants were also provided to him,' the NIA had told HC.
While in the Taloja prison, Swamy had written to his friends saying that other prison inmates helped him bathe and eat. “My two inmates help out during supper, in washing my clothes and give massage to my knee joints,” he wrote.
“They are from very poor families. Please remember my inmates and my colleagues in your prayers. Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison,” his letter read.
In May this year, Swamy had told the HC judges via video conferencing that his health had declined steadily while at the Taloja prison.
“When I first came here, I could bathe, take a walk, write a bit, all by myself. But now, I need help with everything,” he had said.
On the NIA producing 'some extracts' allegedly taken from his computer that pointed to his links with Maoists, Swamy had said they were 'fabrications' that were 'stealthily' put into his computer.
He had told NIA that his advanced age, health complications, and the raging pandemic would make it difficult for him to travel to Mumbai, and hoped 'human sense” would prevail.
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