Bombay High Court on Monday, while hearing posthumously the appeals filed by late Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, said that he was a wonderful person and the court had “great respect” for his work.
Observations were made by a bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar that had also presided over Swamy’s medical bail plea on July 5, when the high court was informed about the 84-year-old priest’s death at Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital that day following a cardiac arrest. “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.
Bench also referred to the criticism that the National Investigation Agency & the judiciary had received following Swamy’s death. It expressed regret over how, in several cases, undertrials languished in prisons waiting for the trial to begin. The bench, however, also said 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 Elgar Parishad-Maoist links 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.
Bombay high court further said nobody mentions that this is the court, which granted bail to Swamy’s co-accused Varavara Rao in Elgar Parishad case , 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 facility),” the high court said.
“We never anticipated this (Swamy’s death in custody) will happen. What was on our minds, we can’t say now as we couldn’t pronounce our order,” the HC said referring to the pending medical bail plea of the late Jesuit priest. Swamy was arrested by the NIA in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case from Ranchi in October 2020. The tribal rights activist, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and several other ailments, spent most of his time in custody at the Taloja prison’s hospital in neighbouring Navi Mumbai. He was admitted to the state-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai on two occasions and was shifted to the Holy Family Hospital, a private medical facility, on May 28, following the intervention of the bench led by Justice Shinde.
On July 5, the bench was informed by the hospital authorities that Swamy had suffered from a cardiac arrest two days prior and was put on ventilator support. He never regained consciousness and was declared dead by the hospital authorities about an hour before Swamy’s medical bail plea was taken up for hearing by the high court, it was informed at that time. On Monday, following the high court’s observations on it having passed fair orders, Desai said, “Let me say on record that I am extremely happy with various benches of the high court that heard this matter.” He, however, urged the court to let Swamy’s aide and another priest, father Frazer Mascarenhas, to participate in the magisterial inquiry that was initiated under Section 176 of the CrPC following the undertrial’s death. He also urged the high court to direct the magistrate conducting the inquiry to adhere to the UNHRC guidelines on such inquiries, and to ask for a report of the probe to be submitted in the high court.
Advocate Sandesh Patil, who appeared for the NIA, on Monday said the central agency was objecting to Desai’s request since the high court 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 court.
The bench, however, told him there could be “no control on who says what outside on the matter”. “You take instructions on how many witnesses, how long will the trial take. We have to look at it practically,” the court said to the NIA counsel. “The concern is that for how many years can people be asked to languish in jail without a trial. Not only in this case, but the question will arise on other cases also,” it said.
high court will continue hearing the pleas on July 23. The Elgar 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. The NIA later took over the probe into the case.