MUMBAI Updated: Jul 21, 2020 00:48 IST

K A Y Dodhiya

The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday asked the state and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to respond to a petition filed by activists Vernon Gonsalves and Dr Anand Teltumbde, seeking directions to the authorities to test them for Covid-19, as they were in close contact with Telugu poet Dr P Varavara Rao, who was tested positive for the virus last week.

The three are booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAP) Act for their alleged links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) outfit and making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune on December 31, 2017, leading to violence at Bhima Koregaon the next day.

Gonsalves and Teltumbde are lodged in Taloja jail, while Rao, who was also in the same jail, is currently undergoing treatment at Nanavati Hospital. The two activists said that as they were in close touch with Rao while he was unwell in the jail, for their safety as well as for the safety of other inmates, they wanted to be tested for Covid-19.

A division bench of justice SS Shinde and justice SP Tavade, while hearing the application of Gonsalves and Teltumbde, was informed by senior advocate Mihir Desai that the two were not seeking interim bail but only a limited plea of getting tested.

The petition filed by the two through advocate Devyani Kulkarni said that as both the activists ail from various health issues and as they are senior citizens, they have an apprehension that they may have contracted the virus from Rao.

Gonsalves helped Rao with his daily activities as the latter was turned quite feeble, while Teltumbde sought to be tested as he was in the same jail hospital where Rao was kept when the latter’s health condition deteriorated owing to comorbidities and electrolyte imbalance in body.

Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted that the government did not have any difficulty in granting the request of both the inmates, but it needs to follow the testing norms laid down by various court orders passed previously. He, however, sought time to take instructions in on the matter.

While initially the bench remarked that the request of the two could be easily complied with, it sought to know if the duo would be willing to confine themselves in isolation units if their test reports came positive.

However, as Kumbhakoni sought time to take instructions from the state, the court said it would not pass any orders and issued notices to the state and NIA to respond to the plea and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.

Gonsalves was arrested by Pune Police in August 2018, while Teltumbde was arrested in April this year. Nine other activists, including Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale and Gautam Navlakha are also booked in the same case.

courtesy HT