Illegal Incarceration of Poet Varavara Rao - No reasons for arrest; hundreds for release!

Poet Varavara Rao
Poet Varavara Rao

First, we have to see what exact charge against Varavara Rao was? Nothing so far. Whether there is any complaint against him? No. Whether first FIR mentions his name?

First, we have to see what exact charge against Varavara Rao was? Nothing so far. Whether there is any complaint against him? No. Whether first FIR mentions his name? No. At least second FIR

deals with any complaint against him? No. First FIR filed on January 2, a day after the actual Bhima Koregaon violence (rioting, vandalism and murder), in which the actual perpetrators, Shambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, were named. Second FIR filed on January 8 as an afterthought, in which the violence was linked to Elgar Parishad meeting in Pune on December

31, 2017. It was claimed by police that during raids they have seized a letter which reportedly reads, "During the past few months, we have got good publicity thanks to guidance provided by senior comrade Varavara Rao and our legal consultant Surendra Gadling in various activities."

For this reference by someone to some other, Varavara Rao was arrested on August 28, 2018. The prosecutor told the Pune court that the "anti-fascist front" had also started negotiating with an arms dealer based in Nepal. In fact, the police leaked three letters, two in English and one in Hindi and the Hindi letter alone mentions Varavara Rao's name and there is nothing about Modi in that letter. In an English letter the Modi affair was mentioned but it doesn't contain Varavara Rao's name.

When violence broke out in Bhima Koregaon, the complaint was against some right wing leaders on communal lines. Two leaders were arrested at the special intervention of Supreme Court. Then a

Committee consisting of former army men claimed to have done some investigation and discovered that the violence was not caused by right wing leaders but by left wing rights activists.

This author and former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi made an appeal to Maharashtra Chief Minister to release him. Absolute lack of evidence The Pune Police and State Investigation Teams have investigated this case for around 16 weeks and could not collect even an iota of evidence to prove the wild charge that this 80-year-old man from Hyderabad has conspired/attempted to murder Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Maharashtra Government based on the investigation stated that there was no evidence against Varavara Rao and others in this case and also declared that very soon they would close the file. But, at that time, suddenly the National Investigation

Authority( NIA) has taken over the investigation into its hands and again stalled the release of Varavara Rao on bail. So far,

no progress in investigation against Varavara Rao is reported by NIA also.

Constitutional position

The subject of 'Law and order' is in the State List as per the distribution of powers under Indian Constitution, which cannot be taken away by the Centre without any such request from the State or by the Court. The usurping of the case will also mean usurping of the power of the State, which is against the equal sovereignty of States and thus violates federalism.

Constitutionally and practically speaking the state of Maharashtra is more eligible and equipped to deal with this localcase, rather than any central investigation agency.

Legal position

It is a well-established principal of criminal justice that the accused shall be resumed innocent until the charge is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Because of lack of evidence, Varavara Rao has every right to be acquitted as not guilty. Only awaited legal formality is the final judgment of acquittal by court. The length of waiting for final judgment is not known. The burden of proof of his guilt is totally on the shoulders of state, which has every authority to discharge when truth of his non-involvement in such alleged attempt was established. The State police tried its best in probing the allegations but what can anybody do when the allegation was not true and because of that any amount of investigation may not yield any piece of evidence. In such an event, Varavara Rao deserves at least release on bail, on the above-mentioned strength of legal position.

Factual position

Varavara Rao, at this advanced age of 80s, with several health issues, living in Hyderabad with family (wife and three daughters), with his most honest history as a simple teacher, journalist (Editor of Srijana, monthly literary magazine in Telugu) and poet cannot be expected to jump the bail, which should have been the strong ground for granting bail. This is the factual position that entitles him to be released on bail.

Humanitarian position

Not the least, the humanitarian position demands his release. Before he wastaken into judicial custody, Varavara Rao was suffering from multiple diseases like piles, thyroid issue, prostate gland enlargement, coronary artery issue, acidity and migraine synesis etc. Recently he developed some more health problems in prison. It is reported that Varavara Rao fell ill on May 29 and shifted to JJ Hospital from Taloja jail in Maharashtra, which shocked his near and dear. The family members were in darkness about his illhealth until the JJ Hospital released a bulletin that his vitals are normally functional.

His health condition should be taken into be considered and the state should kindly allow the veteran poet to spend his rest of life with his seventy-twoyear- old life partner and daughters n peace on these humanitarian grounds.

Covid- 19 condition

The Supreme Court recently directed release of convicted and under-trial detainees to contain the coronavirus spread by decongestion of prisons. It is unfortunate that either Covid-19 crisis, or Supreme Court's direction did not come to his rescue.

Several thousands of prisoners were given either parole or bail to go out of prison, from dozens of jails in India in last two months, though some of them were charged with offences for which seven years of imprisonment could be imposed on proof of guilt. There are already 3600 inmates in Taloja prison, which has capacity of just 2100, including Varavara Rao, who because of advanced age and ill health more vulnerable to get infected by Covid- 19. In addition, he is being given just one bucket of water per day, which can hardly be enough to keep himself hygienic, which aggravates the risk of Coronavirus attack.

At least for preventing the corona infection, Varavara Rao should have been released in addition to the fact that there was no evidence against him. Instead, the Covid crisis was used to harm the life of this prisoner. He was denied daily newspapers, video conferences with wife were stopped, water allocation reduced, mulakats cancelled and information was blocked.

Information issues

The family members are not given complete information about Varavara Rao's medical condition. From February 29 to March 22 he was allowed to talk to his wife once in a week for two minutes

after three weeks. His wife Hemalatha could talk to him for just six minutes in all in three weeks that would hardly suffice to enquire about his family, and there was no scope to talk about him.

Family continues to be anxious about his health eternally waiting for satisfactory information. The Chikkadpally Police station in Hyderabad called his wife on May 29th night and gave just one sentence of information that he was shifted to JJ Hospital. Through one friend of a co-prisoner, Varavara Rao's brother- inlaw N Venugopal, a journalist, could find that his body was swollen and that he fell unconscious on May 28. Very fact that he was taken to JJ Hospital suggests his condition was serious, otherwise he would have continued under care of Taloja prison's medical team only. All these factors further increased the anxiety of wife and daughters, and no reliable details being made available from any quarter.

Non- submission of medical report

The Magistrate who is hearing the case is seeking medical report about Varavara Rao, since several adjournments. When the Court was hearing bail petition on 29th the medical team was attending unconscious Varavara Rao. But medical report was not submitted to the court. The court adjourned case again for medical report to 2nd June. We request your good self to instruct the concerned to provide complete details of his health status to the Court, which might facilitate court to grant bail to him.

Hence, it is appealed to Maharashtra CM to

a) ACQUIT Varavara Rao; or if they cannot complete the trial speedily

b) RELEASE him on Bail immediately, and do not oppose his bail; till then

c) SHIFT him to Hyderabad hospital; if not,

d) PERMIT the family to travel across state and visit him in hospital, or

e) FACILITATE Video Conferencing with wife and daughters, and

f ) DISCLOSE complete details of his medical conditions, diagnostic reports.

g) SHARE certified copies of entire file relating to investigation of case, available with police headquarters of Mumbai or with State Home Minister, and the file with file notes of handing over file to NIA, Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India, within 48 hours as this information is concerned with life and liberty of Varavara Rao.

h) PROVIDE medical status report of Varavara Rao to the court on June 2, to secure the bail. Varavarao deserves an immediate release on legal, evidence and humanitarian grounds. Hope better sense will prevail.

(The writer is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor at Bennett University)

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