Mumbai: Two former information commissioners have written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to release 80-year-old Telugu poet P Varavara Rao, who is in judicial custody in Koregaon Bhima case, on humanitarian grounds.
In their letter, former commissioners Shailesh Gandhi and Sridhar Acharyulu claimed that there is “a lack of evidence” against Rao.
“Pune police and State Investigation Team having investigated the case for 16 weeks could not collect even an iota of evidence to prove the wild charge that this 80-year-old man from Hyderabad has conspired/attempted to murder Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” they said. The case was taken over by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) after change in government in Maharashtra.
The case is related to speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad conclave, held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, and the next day's violence near the Koregaon Bhima war memorial in the district.
Pune police claimed that the conclave was backed by Maoists and the speeches made there triggered the violence. During the probe, the police arrested Left-leaning activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao for alleged Maoist links.
Citing the constitutional position, the former information commissioners in their letter said, “The subject of 'Law and order' is in the state list as per the distribution of powers under the Indian Constitution, which cannot be taken away by the Centre without any such request from the state or by the court”.
“It is a well-established principal of criminal justice that the accused shall be presumed innocent until the charge is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Because of lack of evidence, Varavara Rao has every right to be acquitted as not guilty. Only awaited legal formality is the final judgment of acquittal by court,” they said.
The former information commissioners highlighted Rao's frail health, Supreme Court order on undertrials during COVID-19 scenario, lack of information to his family to appeal for his release.
“The magistrate who is hearing the case is seeking a medical report about Varavara Rao, since several adjournments.
When the court was hearing the bail petition on 29th, the medical team was attending unconscious Varavara Rao. But the medical report was not submitted to the court,” the letter said.
The ex-commissioners appealed to the chief minister to take either of the steps to acquit him, release him on bail, shift him to Hyderabad Hospital, permit the family to meet him in the hospital, facilitate a videoconferencing with family, disclose his medical condition or share certified copies of entire file notings related to handing over of his case to NIA.