A petition was filed by Advocates Yug Chaudhury and Ragini Ahuja, before the Bombay High Court, seeking interim bail for Activist and Lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj on medical grounds. Earlier, the bail application of Sudha Bharadwaj was rejected by the Special Judge, National Investigative Agency in Mumbai on May 29, 2020.
Sudha Bharadwaj is a 58-year-old former law professor of National Law University Delhi. She is a legal activist who has practiced law in service of people from marginalized communities for over 15 years. In 2010, the Appellant founded an organisation called ‘Janhit’ in Chhattisgarh to provide legal aid. They represent the interests of marginalized farmers in cases of land acquisition, tribals seeking forest rights, industrial workers, and dalits, adivasis, and women in respect of atrocities faced by them.
She was arrested on 28.08.2018 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on allegations of her role in the Elgar Parishad event and Bhima Koregaon violence case. Her petition points out malafides in the case made by the prosecution. As per the prosecution’s story, she is a member of the banned CPI (Maoist) and has conspired to seize political power by overthrowing the State. To support its story, the prosecution has relied on evidence on typed copies of letters which are neither dated nor signed. They were found on the electronic device of the co-accused persons, and are not verified, while nothing was seized from her device.
Grounds for bail
Sudha Bharadwaj is a diabetic and suffers from hypertension. These issues make her much more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic that has already spread in the Byculla jail in which she is incarcerated. Officials within the prison have also tested positive and the environment is in no way safe for the appellant. Sudha Bharadwaj falls under the category of those who are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection and also high fatality rate, should she contract the disease.
She is also suffering from various conditions due to aging and has extremely painful swelling in her joints and also a frozen shoulder that has restricted her movement. In the past she has suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis and this makes her particularly susceptible to contracting respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
COVID-19 and Guidelines for Prisons
The petition highlights guidelines issued by the Government of India on “Health Advisory for Elderly Population”. The Government’s guidelines itself place people of Sudha Bharadwaj’s health conditions under the category of high risk. Further, a High Powered Committee recommended interim bail to inmates with underlying medical conditions and higher risks should be the committee has urged such inmates to apply for bail to the concerned court.
At present, it is impossible to ensure sufficient social distancing protocol in the overcrowded Byculla jail. To effectuate social distancing within the prison, more than 14,000 prisoners will have to be released from Byculla jail.
The petitions states:
“The Appellant is incarcerated at Byculla Jail, which has already seen its own Jail Superintendent, one inmate as well as their own doctor test positive for covid. This makes the Appellant’s continued incarceration in Byculla Jail extremely dangerous.”