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Denying bail in Elgaar Parishad case to political prisoners is callous: PUCL

Poet-activist Varavara Rao arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case.   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

The denial of bail to all accused in the Elgaar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case was “patently callous”, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said on Monday, and urged that the health and safety of political prisoners be treated with the same urgency as other prisoners.

In a press statement, PUCL said the life and health of all prisoners, convicted or undertrial, is the responsibility of the State which must ensure that all are safe and protected. The statement was issued following the hospitalisation of poet-activist Varavara Rao (81) on May 28, after he could not be treated in Taloja Jail. He has multiple ailments including coronary artery disease. On Monday afternoon, he was discharged from JJ Hospital and sent back to Taloja jail.

Mr. Rao and other activists arrested in connection with the case are lodged in various jails in Mumbai. While Anand Teltumbde (70) has respiratory problems, Gautam Navlakha (67) is a patient of colonic polyposis, chronic gastritis, and hypertension. Shoma Sen (61) suffers from hypertension and arthritis and Sudha Bharadwaj (58) has hypertension and diabetes.

The recent rejection of bail applications, PUCL said, and the sudden transfer of Mr. Navlakha to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), raised significant questions about the rights of political prisoners amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

The PUCL said, “Repeated rejections of interim bail petitions make clear that existing medical conditions of political prisoners are not regarded as reasonable grounds for bail, even in the context of a pandemic. These rejections are outcomes of mechanical decisions taken by High-Powered-Committees. The security considerations which prompt these Committees to exclude a section of prisoners based on their alleged offence, has in effect, condemned these elderly and vulnerable inmates to reside in abysmal prison conditions in COVID times.”

The accusations against these prisoners, have been used to not only deny them bail but also doubly penalise them by forcing them to live in overcrowded jails despite their age and health issues.

The two-page statement said, “What is disturbing is that when denying them bail, courts have not even passed orders to keep these prisoners in safe surroundings within the jail, given their advanced age and ailments. Though the NIA admitted before the Mumbai special court on April 25 that one of its officers, in the police station where Mr. Teltumbde was kept for interrogation, had tested positive, the court turned down Mr. Teltumbde’s bail application and sent him to judicial custody at Arthur Road Jail, a COVID-19 hotspot. Ms. Bharadwaj had drawn the court’s attention to the fact that ‘social distancing’ was impossible in the overcrowded wards of Byculla Women’s Jail, and that an inmate has recently tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, her bail application was turned down on May 29. And Taloja jail where Mr. Rao and Mr. Navlakha are lodged, also has a confirmed COVID-19 death.”

“Denial of bail are acts of persecution committed against those who have existing medical vulnerabilities. The fear of infection is extremely high in overcrowded jails, known for their insanitary and inhuman conditions. In COVID-19 times, especially when Maharashtra has emerged as the State with the highest number of cases, (62,228 as of May 29), differentially treating bail petitions by political prisoners is gross injustice. The utter helplessness of the prisoner is evident from the hospitalisation of Mr. Rao, and from the case of Mr. Navlakha who was not produced before the court that granted permission for his transfer, nor allowed to inform his family or lawyer,” the statement said.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 6:24:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/denying-bail-in-elgaar-parishad-case-to-political-prisoners-is-callous-pucl/article31727020.ece

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