TWO DAYS after writer-poet Varavara Rao (80), accused in the Elgaar Parishad case, tested positive for Covid-19, 20 other inmates of Taloja Central Jail, including Vernon Gonsalves (61), a co-accused in the case, have tested negative, prison officials said Saturday.
For a week before he was shifted to state-run JJ Hospital on July 13, Rao was admitted to the hospital ward of Taloja jail. Officials from the state prison department said after the 80-year-old tested positive, 20 inmates, including those from the hospital ward, were randomly selected and tested for Covid-19.
“Their test results came on Saturday and all of them are negative,” said an official. Ten other inmates, tested earlier this week, are also negative, the official said.
Meanwhile, Rao’s co-accused Gonsalves and 70-year-old academician Anand Teltumbde had approached the Bombay High Court on Friday seeking to be tested for the virus. Gonsalves had said that he was assigned the duty of being Rao’s aide in the prison from June 28. Rao whose medical condition was deteriorating was not able to complete daily chores by himself and was dependent on Gonsalves, who had come in close contact with him.
Teltumbde, meanwhile, said that he was also admitted to the hospital ward and remained at the risk of contracting the infection. Prison official said Teltumbde, however, has not been tested so far as he was not in close proximity to Rao. He was tested in April when his custody was taken by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
So far, there have been two deaths due to the virus at Taloja Central Jail, including an inmate who died by suicide in May, whose posthumous results showed him to have been positive.
Taloja Central Jail is the only prison in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region which is allowing new inmates. A school in Kharghar has been converted into a temporary jail to serve as a quarantine centre for new inmates before they are shifted to the main jail.
Inmates, including Rao’s co-accused Gautam Navlakha who was kept at the school, have complained about the facilities available at the centre.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) this week had sent notices to the state government and the director-general of prisons calling for a report regarding appropriate medical care being provided to prisoners.
Rao had tested positive on Thursday after being taken to J J Hospital. He is currently admitted to St George Hospital and is undergoing treatment for Covid-19. Doctors said they suspect he is suffering from dementia after a series of tests found a neurological condition, treatment for which has begun.
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