Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed a panel of doctors from a private hospital here to conduct medical examination of the jailed poet-activist Varavara Rao through video link.
The 81-year-old Rao, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, is lodged as an under-trial in the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai.
A division bench led by Justice A K Menon was hearing a petition filed by Rao's wife Hemlata, seeking that he be shifted to the private Nanavati Hospital for better treatment, an independent medical board be set up to assess his health, and he be released on bail.
Rao's lawyer Indira Jaising claimed that his health was "fast deteriorating", and there was a legitimate apprehension that he might die in prison.
Rao suffers from dementia, is confined to bed in the prison hospital since August and needs to wear diapers, the lawyer said.
If Rao passed away in prison, it would be a case of "custodial death", advocate Jaising said, adding that his detention violated his right to life under Article 21.
The high court initially suggested that a team of doctors from the Nanavati hospital visit Rao in prison.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, opposed the suggestion. It also opposed Jaising's request that Rao be shifted to the Nanavati hospital.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, the NIA's lawyer, said prisoners cannot choose their doctors, and allowing it would set a wrong precedent.
"Tomorrow, every prisoner will say shift me to Nanavati. Besides, we should not underestimate the credibility of our government doctors and hospitals," Singh said.
The court, however, said there would not be any harm if a video consultation was allowed.
"The main concern is to assess the present medical condition of the accused. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of shifting him out of prison without knowing his health condition, let the Nanavati doctors assess," he judges said.
The HC directed doctors at the Nanavati hospital to submit their video assessment report as soon as it was ready, and submit a physical assessment report, if such examination was felt to be necessary, by November 16.