Hyderabad: After two-and-a-half years, Telugu poet and activist Dr. Varavara Rao was released on bail on medical grounds for six months on 6 March. Rao, 81, was undergoing treatment at Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital.
Earlier, on 22 February, the Bombay High Court had granted bail to the ailing Telugu poet on medical grounds.
Rao is an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and is facing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
On Saturday, Rao's lawyer Indira Jaising posted a photo of him on Twitter and wrote, "Free at last! Varavara Rao out of Nanavati hospital 11.45 pm, 6th March 2021."
A division Bench of Justice S.S Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale said that after six months he should either surrender or apply for an extension. Pronouncing its verdict, the Bench held: "It would be inappropriate to send him back (to jail). It would be appropriate to impose such conditions."
Rao's wife Pendyala Hemalatha had filed a petition in the court accusing Taloja prison officials of violating Article 21 of the Constitution by not providing treatment to her husband as required. She had initially approached the Supreme Court, which denied relief and directed her to approach the High Court instead.
Rao has been granted bail on the condition that he has to stay within the jurisdiction of the Special NIA Court. He was also directed not to indulge in any activities or similar activities which led to the registration of the FIR.
Just as the court pronounced the verdict, additional solicitor general Anil Singh sought a stay on the order for three weeks. However, the court rejected this plea. The court further held that Rao has to attend the trial whenever necessary, but can apply for exemption from physical appearance.
Rao is presently lodged in Nanavati Hospital after chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare informed the court that the state Home minister was willing to shift Rao to a private hospital as a special case.
During the hearing of the case, the court had requested the lawyers to adopt a humanitarian approach while arguing, considering Rao's deteriorating health and advanced age. "You make sure to keep in mind the age and health of Dr. Rao. He is above 80 years old. Ensure your submissions take this into account," Justice Shinde had told both counsels.
Rao was arrested on 28 August 2018 and subsequently charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) along with 16 other academics and activists. He is currently recuperating in Nanavati hospital following the High Court's intervention in November 2020. Last month, Nanavati said Rao is hemodynamically stable and could be discharged.
Rao and his wife, represented by senior advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, had requested the court to send him back to his home in Hyderabad for at least three months owing to his advanced age and neurological condition.
The court observed that the condition of old age, sickness, infirmity and multiple health ailments suffered by him indicate that his continued custody would be incompatible with his health conditions and that sending him back to Taloja Central Prison would amount to endangering his life, thereby violating his fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The court also disapproved of the stand taken by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that the accused was not entitled to any relief under humanitarian or any other grounds keeping in mind the gravity of the offence and its bearing on the state.
The NIA and the state have vehemently argued against setting him at liberty due to the serious allegations against him. They have, however, shown their willingness to be shifted to the prison ward of Sir JJ Hospital, where his condition could be monitored.