MUMBAI: The NIA told the Bombay High Court on Thursday that poet-activist Varavara Rao was an accused in a case of national security and while considering his ill health and plea for bail on medical grounds, it must not lose sight of the seriousness of the offence.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) made the submission while opposing the bail plea of Rao, arrested in the Elgar-Parishad-Maoist links case.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the NIA, told the HC that there were many undertrials in Maharashtra who were suffering from various ailments and being given requisite medical care by the state while in prison.
The ASG was responding to a suggestion made by a bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale that given his ailing health and advanced age, perhaps Rao could be granted bail under strict conditions to ensure he remained within the court's jurisdiction.
"What is the quality of life of an 82-year-old in detention? Is it worth to wait for another emergency to happen to take him to Nanavati (Hospital) only because we reject his bail because of your (NIA's) apprehension?" the bench said.
"Can it (bail) not be met with a condition? That he be kept within the jurisdiction of this court," it said.
The court noted that in a previous hearing last month, the state's counsel, Deepak Thakare, had said that the charges in the 2017 case were yet to be framed and that 200 witnesses remained to be examined.
Therefore, it could take some time for the trial to begin in the case.
Singh, however, said instead of imposing conditions on Rao's bail, the court could impose conditions on the state to ensure that the poet-activist was given good medical care in prison.
"At the cost of repetition. many prisoners his age are in jail. I wouldn't have contested this much had it not been a serious offence in a matter of national security," ASG Singh said.
"Even on medical grounds, the seriousness of the offence is to be considered. It is a question of national security. Tomorrow if something happens then we are responsible," the NIA counsel said.
The HC, however, remarked that it was the state's responsibility to provide requisite medical care to undertrials.
"A prisoner was denied his spectacles sent from his family. They sent it back to his family. Now he cannot even see. We are not saying it is ill-intentioned."
"But it is a mistake of the jail authorities," the bench said referring to an incident in December last year when Rao's co-accused, activist Gautam Navlakha, lost his glasses in the Taloja prison and a new pair of spectacles was sent by his family.
On Wednesday, the NIA had opposed Rao's bail plea citing a report from the Nanavati Hospital in the city that said Rao's condition was stable and he was fit to be discharged from the private hospital.
The bench, however, had pointed out that as per the hospital records, Rao was taking over 20 pills a day and "sustaining" merely on medical support.
It had called for a fresh report from the hospital.
As per the state's counsel, Deepak Thakare, the fresh report, too, stated that Rao's condition was stable.
The HC will continue hearing the arguments in the case next week.
The court is hearing three petitions - a writ petition seeking Rao's complete medical records and a bail plea on medical grounds filed by the poet.
The third one is a writ petition filed by his wife Hemlatha alleging a breach of Rao's fundamental rights owing to lack of medical care during his continued incarceration.
Hemlatha's plea also seeks that Rao be let out of prison and permitted to go back to his family in Hyderabad.
Rao, arrested in June 2018, is lodged in the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai as an undertrial.
Currently though, he is undergoing treatment in the Nanavati Hospital, where he was admitted in November last year following the HC's intervention.
The case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the 'Elgar Parishad' 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 have claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.
Several activists and academicians have been named as accused in the case.
The case was initially probed by the Pune police and later it was handed over to the central agency.