A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit considered the factual aspects of the case to grant him bail, including that he is 82-years old and his medical condition has still not improved.
Mr. Rao, presently on interim bail, had sought regular bail on health grounds.
“Not everybody is in the pink of their health in their eighties. He has never misused his liberty while on bail… Some people may run marathons in their nineties. Some people are healthy in their eighties and nineties, some not,” the Bench observed.
The apex court noted that Mr. Rao was taken into custody in the case in August 2018 and has actually spent two-and-a-half years in custody leaving aside the limited interim bail granted to him in February 2021.
The Bench said other factual details lead to granting him regular bail in the case, including that the authorities were still to apprehend some of the other accused persons.
The court noted that though charge sheet has been filed, the case has still not been taken up for framing of charges. Besides, various applications filed by accused persons seeking discharge were still pending consideration by the lower court. All this may delay the trial further.
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, in our view, the appellant is entitled to the relief of bail,” Justice Lalit pronounced the order for the Bench which also comprised Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
The court deleted the conditions limiting the relief in terms of time when interim bail was granted to Mr. Rao in 2021. However, it ordered that Mr. Rao should not leave the area of Greater Mumbai without prior permission or misuse the liberty granted to him now or get in touch with any of the witnesses or try to influence the course of investigation.
The court said Mr. Rao was entitled to get medical attention of his choice, but should keep the authorities informed about the treatment received by him.
The court clarified that the relief of bail was granted solely on medical grounds and purely on the standpoint of narration of events. The relief should not be taken to be a reflection on merits of the case or rival contentions advanced by the parties.
In the hour-long hearing, senior advocate Anand Grover, for Mr. Rao, submitted that his client’s health has deteriorated over time. He said considering Mr. Rao’s age and ailments, he should be granted bail without any conditions. Mr. Grover said his client was showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease.
Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, for the National Investigation Agency, contended that Mr. Raju was part of a “deep-rooted conspiracy” and he was not entitled to bail under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act under which he was accused. Mr. Raju said the accused has created hurdles every way of the case in order to get bail. He said the apex court ought to adjourn the appeal by six months and see how the trial progressed.
“According to your charge sheet, how many deaths are these people responsible for?” Justice Lalit asked Mr. Raju.
Mr. Grover intervened to submit that his client was not responsible for a single death and the charge sheet only showed electronic evidence allegedly against him.
The court asked Mr. Raju the punishment that the accused would face if he is found guilty.
“Death,” Mr. Raju replied.
“We take the offense he is accused of is of a serious nature. But you had not challenged the bail which was granted before. He was given medical bail for six months before and it got extended to a year and a half… He has not misused his bail,” the court observed.
The court noted that there had been enough time for custodial interrogation when the accused was in custody for over two years.
“You are not contesting that he needs medical attention… Look at his age. At this age, a man does not get well and kick back as before… His health does not improve all that well,” the Bench addressed Mr. Raju.
In an affidavit, the central agency had described Mr. Rao as one of those who gave mileage to the subversive activities of Maoists which led to immense destruction and caused many deaths among police and security personnel.
The NIA said “the act of the petitioner/accused has a direct impact on the unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India.”
The central agency said the accused was neither justified nor entitled to seek relief on constitutional grounds as his acts were “against the interest of state and society” and his offense was grave.
The NIA said evidence point to Mr. Rao and his co-accused were “constantly in the process of fulfilling the agenda of the CPI (Maoist)”