WRITER-ACTIVIST Varavara Rao, who has been behind bars since 2018 in the Elgar Parishad case, tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday. Doctors said he was asymptomatic, but unable to walk due to weakness.
On Monday, the 80-year-old had been shifted to J J Hospital here from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai after complaining of dizziness. His family members had raised concerns regarding his health after receiving a call from him last week.
A series of tests were conducted on him on Thursday, including for Covid-19. After he tested positive, Rao was shifted to St George Hospital, a dedicated coronavirus facility. The hospital has begun treatment for dementia for Rao after a series of tests found neurological condition. Doctors suspect these as signs of dementia.
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J J Hospital Dean Dr Ranjit Mankeshwar said the Covid-19 test was carried out on Rao as a precautionary measure. “He is showing no symptoms. His breathing is normal and all his medical parameters are stable,” the dean said.
St George Hospital authorities said Rao’s oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure and fever were found normal. However, with Rao suffering from other health complications, he has been admitted in ICU.
Family members who visited Rao in hospital alleged they saw him lying unattended. “He was kept in the case transit ward. His clothes were soiled and he was incoherent, unable to recognise his wife or daughters,” a relative said.
Rao suffers from Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy, a condition in which prostate problems affect urinary functions, and has been showing symptoms of delirium and weakness, doctors said. Tests will be conducted on Rao for neurological and lung functions.
Rao’s wife Hemalatha and three daughters had said at a virtual press conference last week that Rao had been “incoherent” in a phone call on July 11, and speaking of incidents that had taken place decades ago like they were occurring now. They said a co-inmate had also told them that Rao, brought to the jail over a week ago, was unable to carry out basic chores on own.
Earlier, in May, Rao had been admitted in J J Hospital after fainting in jail, but was sent back within three days. The family had alleged that he had not received proper treatment. An interim bail plea filed by him seeking temporary release citing the Covid-19 outbreak and his susceptibility to it was rejected by a special court days later. An appeal against the order is likely to be heard by the Bombay High Court on Friday.
Eleven accused are currently behind bars in connection with the Elgar Parishad event organised in Pune in December 2018, nine of whom are in Taloja jail. The NIA has linked them to the violence that happened in Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2019, and called them part of a criminal conspiracy linked to the banned CPI (Maoists).
Provide treatment to Dr GN Saibaba: NPRD
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has condemned “the insensitive manner in which the governments at the Centre and Maharashtra are dealing with jailed human rights activists”.
A statement signed by Muralidharan, general secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), says: “Particularly deplorable is the handling of prisoners like Prof. GN Saibaba, violating all international conventions, as also domestic laws like the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, prison manuals etc. A person with 90 per cent disability, Dr. Saibaba has 19 serious health conditions, some of which are life threatening.”
Prof Saibaba is lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail over alleged Maoist links.
“Given the utterly deplorable conditions and overcrowding in the Nagpur Central Jail, were many guards and prisoners (one even close to his cell) have been infected with the dreaded Covid-19, there is every possibility that he may get catch the virus. This may prove dangerous given his co-morbidities,” the statement adds.
“Given these circumstances, we demand upon the Central & Maharashtra governments to release him on bail immediately for facilitating his treatment at a facility of his choice,” it says.
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