His death was announced by Holy Family Hospital medical director, Dr Ian D’Souza, during a virtual session of the Bombay high court which was hearing Swamy’s plea for medical bail. His counsel Mihir Desai had sought an unscheduled hearing at 2.30pm. Cause of death was a combination of pulmonary complications and Parkinson’s, the doctor informed the judges. Swamy had developed septicaemia too. He died at 1.24pm after suffering a cardiac arrest on Sunday at 4.30am, the doctor said. He had not regained consciousness after being put on the ventilator. The bench of Justices S S Shinde and NJ Jamadar recorded the news with a “heavy heart”.
When Swamy’s health deteriorated in custody, the HC judges had overridden objections from the National Investigation Authority and ordered him to be shifted from Taloja central jail to a private healthcare facility on May 28. The NIA had suggested a government-run facility to which Swamy had said, “I would rather die here in prison.” He had tested Covid positive on admission, but recovered.
While tributes poured in for the Jesuit priest and tribal rights champion, social media was thick with condemnation for the treatment meted out to the activist by the investigating agency and judiciary.
Desai was all praise for the treatment at the hospital. The HC too acknowledged the care given. Swamy’s lawyer, however, alleged negligence by jail authorities and questioned the NIA’s conduct in opposing his bail. He said the agency had not sought even a day’s custody for questioning since his arrest and incarceration in Taloja prison. The chargesheet against him was filed on October 9, which meant the investigation was over and he should have been entitled to bail. Desai said, “There ought to be a probe against the authorities.’’
Last year, a special trial court had denied him medical bail and this March it said, given the seriousness of the allegations against Swamy it had “no hesitation” to conclude that “the collective interest of the community would outweigh the right of personal liberty of the applicant notwithstanding his “old age and/or alleged sickness”.
In April Swamy approached the HC to appeal against both orders.
On May 28, an HC vacation bench directed his hospitalisation. He was shifted the same night from Taloja jail, where he had been lodged since his arrest in Ranchi. NIA had said sending him to a private hospital may set a “wrong precedent’’ but HC said given the “peculiar facts and circumstances of this case,” it was permitting the shift. Fr Swamy’s counsels Desai and Mihir Joshi had highlighted how he was “unable to stand, eat or visit the toilet” and his health was “extremely precarious with reduced oxygen saturation and acutely fluctuating blood pressure”. The HC was informed hospital expenses would be borne by Fr Swamy.
On May 21, while the hearing on his weak condition was on, he had refused to be shifted to JJ Hospital or even Holy Family. In a virtual interaction from prison, he said, “I would prefer to die here (in jail), than go to JJ Hospital.” The NIA had suggested the JJ prison ward.
Swamy had told the court, “I was brought healthy to Taloja jail eight months back but over a period all my body functions have deteriorated. I cannot eat on my own, can’t bathe nor walk unsupported. Though I have been getting medicines it has not helped.’’ A week on, Desai, asked by the HC to convince Swamy, did so and sought orders for his shift to Holy Family.
The HC while directing Swamy’s hospitalisation for 15 days permitted hospital visits by Fr Frazer Mascarenhas, of St Peter’s Church. The hospitalisation was extended till July 6.
Desai said Fr Swamy has no family. “The Jesuits are his only family.’’ On his request, the HC directed his body be handed over to Fr Mascarenhas for the last rites in Mumbai.
For the NIA, ASG Anil Singh and state’s public prosecutor Deepak Thakare said they would abide by HC’s order. Thakare said inquest and post mortem is needed, since the undertrial was in custody. The HC directed it to be done forthwith.
Desai said last rites would be in conformity with the state’s pandemic SOP. The HC directed that all medical and post-mortem reports be placed before it next Tuesday, when Desai said he would make further submissions in the matter.
Just last week, Fr Swamy had freshly petitioned HC against section Section 43 D (5), UAPA which bars bail if a court forms prima facie opinion that accusations are true. Swamy had also questioned the terminology ‘frontal organisations’ in the UAPA first schedule, claiming its use by prosecuting agencies to “arbitrarily’’ oppose bail pleas.
The NIA had claimed that Bagaicha, an organization founded by Fr Swamy to empower tribals, is connected with a frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist).
Watch Stan Swamy, accused in Elgar Parishad case, passes away at 84