Maha govt agrees to shift Varavara Rao to Nanavati Hospital

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(Eds: Adds details) Mumbai, Nov 18 (PTI) The Maharashtra government on Wednesday agreed to shift jailed poet-activist Varavara Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, to the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai for treatment for 15 days.

Following the intervention of a bench of Justices S S Shinde and Madhav Jamdar, the state said it will shift Rao (81), who is lodged as an under-trial in the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, to the Nanavati Hospital as a 'special case'.

State's counsel Deepak Thakre told the court that he had taken instructions from Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who said the state had no objection to shifting Rao to the Nanavati Hospital, a private medical facility.

The cost of Rao's treatment will be borne by the state, the court directed.

The HC further directed that he should not be discharged from the hospital without informing the court.

The state will also have to submit all medical reports of Rao before the court, and Rao's family members should be allowed to meet him at the hospital, the bench said.

The bench passed its orders while hearing a writ petition filed by Rao's wife Hemlata seeking that he be shifted from the Taloja prison hospital to the Nanavati Hospital immediately, since his continued detention was a breach of his fundamental rights.

The court was also hearing a bail plea filed by Rao on medical grounds.

Rao's counsel, senior advocate Indira Jaising, did not press for bail on Wednesday after the high court suggested that she restrict her arguments to the interim relief of shifting Rao to the Nanavati Hospital.

Jaising told HC that Rao suffered from dementia, had developed a urinary tract infection in prison, and his 'mental and physical health condition was fast diminishing'.

There existed reasonable apprehension that Rao might die while in prison, she said.

Jaising alleged that the state had been negligent in taking care of Rao's health while he was in its custody as an under-trial.

She also said Rao's condition needed the intervention of specialists and that he could not be treated at the Taloja prison hospital.

This prompted the bench to ask the state and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) why Rao could not be shifted to the Nanavati Hospital.

'Ultimately the man is on almost his death bed. He needs some treatment. Can the State say no we will treat him in Taloja?' the bench asked.

'We are only saying transfer him to the Nanavati Hospital for two weeks. We will further see after two weeks,' the judges said.

Initially, the NIA and the state both had objected to Rao being shifted to the Nanavati Hospital.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, argued that the government-run J J Hospital had sufficient facilities to treat Rao.

Singh also said shifting Rao to the Nanavati Hospital would set a wrong precedent and other prisoners, too, would want to be treated at private hospitals.

But, Jaising told the high court that Rao's condition was extremely vulnerable.

She said Rao was examined last week by doctors of the Nanavati Hospital through a video link only for 15 minutes, which was not adequate.

She asked who would take responsibility if Rao died while in prison.

The bench agreed that proper medical examination was not possible over 15 minutes of video call.

The state then suggested that Rao be shifted to the J J Hospital.

The bench, however, said the J J Hospital was already burdened and it did not want to impose more pressure.

The HC said even if Rao was shifted to the Nanavati Hospital, he would continue to be in the NIA's custody.

The court will hear the matter next on December 3.

Rao, who was arrested in June 2018, has been booked by 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. PTI AYA GK GK