Updated: July 19, 2021 4:44:15 pm
Hearing posthumously the appeals filed by late Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case on Monday, the Bombay High Court remarked that the tribal rights activist was a “wonderful person” and the court has “great respect” for his work.
The observations were made by a bench of Justices S S Shinde and N J Jamadar that had also presided over Swamy’s medical bail plea on July 5, when the HC was informed about the 84-year-old priest’s death at the Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai that day following a cardiac arrest.
Swamy, who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case on October 8, died at the Holy Family Hospital on July 5, where he was shifted on the directions of the Bombay High Court in May after his health began deteriorating.
Even as the bench said the court has great respect for Swamy’s work, it also noted that “whatever is there against him is a different matter legally.”
“We don’t have time normally, but I saw the funeral service (of Swamy). It was very gracious,” Justice Shinde said. “Such a wonderful person. The kind of service he has rendered to the society. We have great respect for his work. Legally, whatever is there against him is a different matter,” he said.
The bench also referred to the criticism the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the judiciary had received following Swamy’s death.
It also expressed regret over how, in several cases, undertrials languished in prisons waiting for the trial to begin.
The bench, however, asserted that it had ensured to remain fair while passing orders on Swamy’s medical bail plea, as well as on the pleas filed by his co-accused in the Elgaar Parishad case.
“You came to us with his medical bail plea on May 28 and we acceded to every prayer, every time,” the court said to Swamy’s advocate, senior counsel Mihir Desai.
“Outside, we are speechless. Only you (Desai) can clarify this. You have said it on record that you have no grievance with this court in the matter,” the high court said.
Stating that the court never anticipated Stan Swamy’s death in custody, the bench, referring to the pending medical bail plea of the late activist, said, “What was on our minds, we can’t say now as we couldn’t pronounce our order.”
The HC also noted that nobody mentions that this is the court which granted bail to (co-accused) Varavara Rao, despite vehement opposition.
“We allowed (Rao’s) family to meet as we thought human angle has to be seen. In another case (Hany Babu), we sent to hospital of his choice (Breach Candy Hospital-a private medical faciluty),” the HC said.
Meanwhile, Advocate Sandesh Patil, who appeared for the NIA, on Monday said the central agency was objecting to Desai’s request since the HC was hearing appeals challenging a bail order and issues related to the inquiry could not be raised on the same pleas.
“Time and again it is projected that the NIA is responsible for whatever has happened, and that jail authorities are responsible too,” Patil told the HC.
The high court will continue hearing the pleas on July 23.
The Elgaar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a 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 had claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.
Following Stan Swamy’s death, his lawyer Mihir Desai had told the Bombay High Court that although the tribal rights activist was arrested by the NIA on October 8, the central agency did not seek his custody for interrogation and the next day sent him to judicial custody in Taloja Central Jail, where he remained until he was shifted to a private hospital on May 28, where he died after a little over a month.
“What was the need for his arrest as not a single day’s custody was sought?” asked Desai before the high court on July 5, minutes after the bench was informed of Swamy’s death. Calling for an inquiry, Desai said while he had no complaints against the court or the hospital, he could not say the same about the NIA and jail authorities.
The family members and friends of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case had earlier called the death of Father Stan Swamy “an institutional murder” and said that they fear the health and lives of others lodged in jail.
With PTI inputs
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