Mumbai: After Jesuit priest Stan Swamy and Delhi University professor Hany Babu testing positive for COVID-19 recently, three more Bhima-Koregaon accused – Mahesh Raut, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor, lodged in Taloja jail have tested positive for the virus.

They tested positive in an RT-PCR drive conducted in the jail on Tuesday, jail superintendent Kaustubh Kurlekar said.

Gorkhe and Gaichor, part of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch, were one of the last arrests in the case in September last year. Raut, a land rights activist working with tribal communities was arrested in 2018.

Recently the Bombay High Court had directed prison authorities to shift Stan Swamy, 84 to Holy Family hospital in Bandra for treatment in an urgent hearing conducted to hear his interim bail plea after an NIA court had rejected it. He had tested positive for the virus on admission there.

Similarly, professor Hany Babu had tested positive for COVID after being taken to hospital following a public appeal by his family for follow-up over his acute eye infection.

Seven other accused in the case have tested negative, the superintendent of Taloja Jail told The Hindu. These include Vernon Gonsalves, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Anand Teltumbde, Rona Wilson and Gautam Navlakha.

Last month, Delhi University Professor Hany Babu, an undertrial prisoner in the Bhima Koregaon case, too was hospitalised after testing positive for the coronavirus and contracting an eye infection. Babu was also lodged at the Taloja Jail. Last year, poet and activist Varavara Rao had tested positive while he was kept in the same prison.

Concerns about the medical facilities and lack of physical distancing at the Taloja Jail have constantly been raised by family members and lawyers of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Bhima Koregaon case

Several activists and academicians have been jailed in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. They were accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered the violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial on the next day. One person was killed and several others were injured in the incident.

The first chargesheet was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages. It named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Raut, all of whom were arrested in June 2018. The police claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused the activists of plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A supplementary chergesheet   was filed in February 2019, against human rights activists Sudha Bhardwaj, Rao, Arun Ferreia, Gonsalves  and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra was defeated.

Eight people who have been named in the NIA chargesheet for the January 2018 violence are  Babu, former Indian Institute of Technology professor Anand Teltumbde his brother Milind Teltumbde, Navlakha , three members of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch and Swamy. Milind Teltumbde has been named as an absconding accused and top operative of CPI (Maoist) in the chargesheet.