Supreme Court: Adopting a humanitarian approach, the 3-judges Bench comprising Uday Umesh Lalit, Aniruddha Bose, and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., had granted permanent bail to Bhima Koregaon accused, Dr. P. Varavara Rao solely on medical grounds.
The appellant, Dr. P. Varavara Rao, presently 82 years of age, was kept in house arrest on 28-08-2018, whereafter he was taken into regular custody on 17-11-2018 in connection with Bhima Koregaon violence.
What Happened in Bhima Koregaon?
On January 1, 1818, a Dalit-dominated British Army defeated a Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II, in Koregaon. The battle attained a legendary stature for Dalits, who consider the win as a victory of the Dalits against the injustices perpetuated by the Peshwas.
2018 marked the 200th year of battle and hence there was a larger gathering at Bhima Koregaon. During the celebrations there were violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups, resulting in the death of at least one person and injuries to several others.
Tensions had started simmering on December 29, 2017, the day Govind Gopal Mahar’s memorial was found desecrated. The incident found mention in the Elgar Parishad, a big public conference organised by Dalit and Bahujan groups on December 31, 2017. Police had alleged that inflammatory speeches were made in the event and that led to the violence the next day.1
Earlier Bail Orders
Earlier, by the order in P. Varavara Rao v. National Investigation Agency (Cr. A. No.52 of 2021), dated 22-02-2021, the Bombay High Court had released the appellant on bail for a period of six months on the medical condition. However, liberty was granted to apply for extension depending upon his health condition supported by medical reports. Subsequently, the appellant had preferred Interim Application No.2018 of 2021 seeking an extension of the facility of bail granted earlier on the medical condition.
By the impugned order in P. Varavara Rao v. National Investigation Agency (W.P. No. 461 of 2022), dated 13-04-2022, the Bombay High Court had extended the period only for three months on the same terms and conditions as were set out in the earlier order. That extended period came to an end on or about 12-07-2022.
Meanwhile, the appellant preferred the instant special leave to appeal on 20-06-2022, wherein the Supreme Court had, by an ad-interim order, extended the period of bail which continued on the date of instant order.
The Court noted the observations made by the Bombay High Court on its order dated 22-02-2021, wherein the certain medical condition of the appellant were culled out in paragraph 72 of the order:
“The undertrial is aged 82 years and he suffers from pre-existing health ailments i.e. piles, prostate enlargement, coronary artery disease, Oedema/Ansarca (swelling of feet), Hypertension, Sinusitis, Migraine and Vertigo.
The medical papers pertaining to the stay of the undertrial in the J.J. Hospital in July 2020 show that he had to be admitted due to deterioration of health, electrolyte imbalance as a result which he was showing signs of delirium. He was bleeding from rectum and he had Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) causing urinary inconvenience and loss of control of urination.
The undertrial suffered a fall from bed due to which he suffered a cut on his forehead, which had to be stitched/sutured. He had difficulty in walking and he was disoriented.
The undertrial was found to be Covid-19 positive due to which he was shifted to the St. George’s Hospital, wherein it was recorded that the undertrial was suffering from delirium and perhaps dementia, requiring treatment for electrolyte imbalance and other ailments noted above.
The medical reports between 19-07-2020 and 27-08-2020 consistently showed that he was talking in an irrelevant manner and was showing signs of delirium and suffering from tremors.
That there were only three Ayurvedic Practitioners in the Taloja Central Prison Hospital with no nursing staff and that the undertrial prisoners were being asked to perform the task of attendants in respect of ailing inmates like the undertrial before this Court.
That due to UTI, the catheter had to be used which was not removed for about three months, leading to complications.”
The Court further recorded that medical data revealed that the appellant is suffering from brain atrophy, age-related cerebral cortical atrophy along with hypertension with BPH with recurrent hyponatremia, and recurrent urinary tract infection.
Rival Contentions of the Parties
Mr. Anand Grover, Senior Advocate for the appellant submitted that considering the age of the appellant and the ailments he suffered from; and the fact that his condition had not improved but had deteriorated to a certain extent, the condition regarding surrender be deleted and permanent bail be granted to the appellant. He further contended that the release of the appellant on bail ought not to be limited in point of time but may be granted permanently without fixing any such condition.
Contesting the permanent grant of bail, the National Investigation Agency submitted that the material on record showed the involvement of the appellant in a deep-rooted conspiracy and as such, going by the letter and spirit of Section 43-D (5) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 the appellant should not be entitled to the relief of bail.
Relying on Union of India v. K.A. Najeeb, (2021) 3 SCC 713, the counsel for the appellant contended that the presence of statutory restrictions like Section 43-D(5) of the UAPA per se does not oust the ability of the constitutional courts to grant bail on grounds of violation of Part III of the Constitution. Both the restrictions under a statute as well as the powers exercisable under constitutional jurisdiction can be well harmonised. Whereas at commencement of proceedings, the courts are expected to appreciate the legislative policy against grant of bail but the rigours of such provisions will melt down where there is no likelihood of trial being completed within a reasonable time and the period of incarceration already undergone has exceeded a substantial part of the prescribed sentence.
Observations and Directions
Considering the aforesaid, the Court culled out the following factual aspects:
“The appellant is 82 years of age.
He was taken in custody initially on 28-08-2018 and has actually spent 2½ years of custody, leaving aside the period for which benefit of bail was granted pursuant to the order dated 22.02.2021.
Though the charge-sheet has been filed, some of the accused are still not apprehended and the matter has not even been taken up for consideration whether the charges need to be framed against the accused who are presently before the Trial Court or not.
Various applications preferred by the accused seeking discharge are still pending consideration.
The medical condition of the appellant has not improved to such an extent, over a period of time, that the facility of bail which was granted earlier be withdrawn.”
Hence, the Court held that the appellant was entitled to the relief of permanent bail on medical grounds. Therefore, the Court granted bail to the appellant by deleting the condition placed in the Order dated 22-02-2021 limiting the relief in terms of time. The Bail is subject to the following conditions:
The appellant shall not leave the area of Greater Mumbai without express permission from the Trial Court.
The appellant shall not in any way misuse his liberty nor shall he get in touch with any of the witnesses or try to influence the course the of investigation.
Any infraction of the conditions shall entail in cancellation of bail granted to the appellant.
The appellant shall be entitled to have the medical attention of his choice but shall keep the respondent authorities in touch with any such development including the medical attention received by him.
It is made clear that the benefit of bail is extended to the appellant only on his medical condition.
Lastly, the Court directed the appellant to approach the Trial Court within seven days with advance intimation to the Public Prosecutor. On such representation, the Trial Court was asked to release of the appellant on permanent bail, on medical grounds, subject to such conditions as the Trial Court may deem appropriate to impose.
[P. Varavara Rao v. National Investigation Agency, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1004, decided on 10-08-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Anand Grover, Senior Advocate, for the Appellant;
S.V. Raju, Additional Solicitor General, Advocate, for the Respondents.
*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.