Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist, arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case, breathed his last in a Mumbai hospital on Monday. Doctors at Holy Family Hospital, Bandra, informed the Bombay High Court that Swamy, 84, passed away around 1.30 pm.
His lawyers moved the Bombay High Court on Monday morning, seeking an urgent hearing on his medical bail plea, after he his health deteriorated on Sunday and he was put on ventilator support.
On July 3, the HC had said that Swamy can stay in Hospital till July 6 when it will hear his bail plea.
At 2.30 pm on Monday, a division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice N J Jamadar took up urgent hearing ‘out of turn’ on appeals by Father Stan Swamy against special court orders rejecting his bail pleas on medical grounds and merits. Beginning the hearing, the bench said, “We have received precipice, we will hear it tomorrow (Tuesday) and keep it first on board for hearing. We want in a sealed envelope his medical report from the Hospital.”
However, Senior Counsel Mihir Desai urged the HC to hear Dr Ian D’ Souza, medical director of the Holy Family Hospital.
D’Souza said, “It is with a very heavy heart I have to inform you that father Stan Swamy passed away around 1.30 pm in the hospital today. On Saturday, he (Swamy) suffered cardiac arrest at 4.30 am, we couldn’t revive him. He was put on a ventilator. Subsequent to this, he did not regain consciousness and he was declared dead at 1.24 pm today. Cause of death is definitely pulmonary infection and Parkinson’s disease among others. There were post-covid effects on his lungs.”
A Bombay HC division bench, led by Justice S S Shinde, said: “With all humility at our command, we really are shocked by hearing this news. Therefore, last hearings we immediately allowed him to remain in hospital of his choice. We have no words to express.”
Desai said that he did not have complaints against the Holy Family Hospital but raised doubts over conduct of NIA and state prison authorities. “He (Swamy) was taken to JJ Hospital ten days before shifting to Bandra Hospital but he was not tested there for Covid. There should be a judicial inquiry,” Desai said. “While the HC bench ensured that best medical care is given to him. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing about the NIA and the jail authorities,” Desai added.
Desai also said that since Swamy does not have close family members, his mortal remains be handed to Swamy’s friend Fr Frazer Mascarenhas, former principal of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai and currently the Parish Priest of St Peter’s Church in Bandra. Swamy’s final rites can be conducted in Mumbai itself, Desai said. The bench allowed the request.
Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare for the prison authorities told HC that it was necessary to conduct inquest panchnama on Swamy’s body along with the post-mortem examination before handing it over for performing last rites, which the court directed the authorities to conduct ‘forthwith’. Thakare assured HC that requisite steps will be taken during the course of the day (Monday).
The HC order added, “We make clear that all necessary inquiries, which are required to be made in case of death of appellant in custody, shall be made by competent authority. This order may not be construed as expression of opinion on any of the relevant issues in that regard,” HC noted.
Dr Dsouza further informed the court that at the time of death Fr Swamy was certified to be Covid negative. Desai said that a small funeral will be held in Mumbai in conformity with prevailing Covid SOPs.
Swamy was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He was put on a ventilator support on Sunday after he had difficulty in breathing and his oxygen levels were fluctuating, his lawyer Mihir Desai said.
The High Court had, on May 28, directed state prison authorities to shift Swamy from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai to the private Holy Family Hospital for 15 days, asking Swamy to bear the cost of his treatment. Swamy was shifted to the hospital ICU the same night and put on oxygen support. The HC continued Swamy’s stay in Bandra Hospital from time to time.
Swamy was arrested from Ranchi on October 8 last year and was lodged in Taloja central jail. He tested positive for Covid-19 on May 30.
Swamy had sought interim bail on grounds of the pandemic, citing Parkinson’s disease, among other health issues. He also filed for bail on merits before the special court, stating he was arrested for challenging the indiscriminate arrests of thousands of young adivasis labeled as “Naxals” and that there was no proof of his involvement with the banned CPI (Maoists), as alleged by the central agency. The special court disallowed his pleas.
Before he was shifted to Holy Family hospital (on May 30) following directions from the Bombay HC, Swamy had appeared before the High Court through video-conference from Taloja jail.
Swamy then told the court that when he was brought to the jail, his core systems were still functional but there has been steady regression since then and he was unable to perform his daily chores, including eating and walking without assistance.
Swamy however refused the court’s suggestion to be shifted to state-run JJ Hospital, stating that he did not want to be hospitalised there and would “rather suffer” and “possibly die very shortly” if things were to go on as they were. He had requested the court that he be granted interim bail and allowed to go to his home in Ranchi. Subsequently, he was shifted to Bandra Hospital as per May 28 HC order.
The Court on Monday said that it will hear appeals on next Tuesday, July 13, and sought records of medical condition and treatment given to the appellant from the authorities by the next hearing.
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