Father Stan Swamy finally gets first Covid shot, health continues to deteriorate in jail

His medical note filed before the Bombay High Court on poor facilities states that Taloja houses 3,251 inmates instead of its capacity of 2,124, with only three Ayurvedic doctors on duty

Image Courtesy:bbc.com

Adivasi rights activist and Jesuit Priest Father Stan Swamy has finally been given the first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 today. This despite the fact that the 84 year old who has multiple comorbidity issues has been eligible to take the vaccine since March 1, 2021. He was reportedly denied the vaccine earlier as he did not have his Aadhaar Card!

According to the legal team, academic Anand Teltumde, who is also a fellow accused in the Bhima Koregaon case was also administered the first dose of the Covid vaccine.

Meanwhile, Father Stan’s health has been constantly deteriorating in Taloja Jail and his friends say that he has not received adequate medical treatment. During a press conference on May 15, Father Xavier, Father Stan’s contact in jail, said that Father Stan has an enormous ability to bear pain and hardly complains, but of late he has been complaining of pain.

The 84-year-old priest’s bail was rejected in March on grounds that there was prima facie evidence against him and that the collective interest of the community outweighs his personal liberty and also the “alleged sickness” he suffers. 

As he has appealed against this decision in the Bombay High Court, his lawyer has also filed a note in the court about his deteriorating medical conditions and the inadequacy of medical facilities in Taloja. 

Fr Stan’s application for grant of medical bail comes up on Wednesday before the Bombay High Court.

Failing health of Father Stan

The note states how Father Stan has been unwell with a cough, fever, an upset stomach and a feeling of weakness. Afflicted with the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease and debilitating tremors in both arms almost impairs him from accomplishing basic and essential daily tasks such as eating food, drink water and putting on clothes and taking bath, without the assistance of fellow inmates.

Parkinson’s has also affected his ability to walk and he also took a fall in the bathroom. He has also been suffering from episodes of memory loss. He has difficulty remembering names and faces and is more often than not unable to recognise someone who he has met in the past and needs to be reminded of his earlier encounters with the said person.

He is also hard of hearing and despite using a hearing aid, he has been unable to follow conversations with multiple people as he can only comprehend conversations wherein the speaker talks slowly, distinctly and loudly and by recognising lip movements.

He also has debilitating arthritis, which makes it difficult for him to get up from the floor or sit cross legged. Though the cot and the western toilet provided by the jail staff has helped him, he still requires constant massages of his knee joints to ensure that the pain emanating from the said joints does not increase.

Father Stan, who was arrested in October last year, has been in the Hospital Ward of Taloja Central Prison owing to his advanced age and medical history. Professor Hany Babu, co accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, was also in the same ward and tested positive for Covid on May 13. There is a high chance that Father Stan would have contracted the infection.

By an order dated May 4, 2021, the Bombay High Court had directed the authorities to provide a medical update report of Stan Swamy by May 15 with an advance copy to Father Swamy’s lawyer. However, till date the same has not been supplied.

Present medical treatment

The priest has been prescribed Plempt-2/Pacitane, Ciplar-40, Mysoline 250 (which has been replaced by Gardenal 60) by his neurologist in Ranchi, Jharkhand. The note states that it appears that the medical staff at the prison have prescribed him Ole-5 and Es-Trim-10. It is pertinent to note that while Ole-5 is an antipsychotic drug used in the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and mania, he has never been diagnosed with these illnesses.

Unfortunately, muscle stiffness, tremors and uncontrolled muscle movements are common side effects of Ole-5 and thus, it is possible that the medication being administered to him may exacerbate his mobility-related symptoms arising out of the severe Parkinson’s.

As he developed a fever, severe headaches, cough and diarrhoea, he is being treated by one of the Ayurveda practitioners at Taloja Central Prison. Father Stan has been prescribed antibiotics by the said doctor, who is not even a practitioner of allopathic medicine.

Abysmal conditions in Taloja jail

The appeal filed by Father Stan states that his medical state should be seen in context of the abysmal conditions of the medical facilities and lack of adequate medical practitioners at Taloja Central Prison. According to the data maintained by the Maharashtra Prison Department, Taloja Prison can officially house only 2,124 inmates.

In an affidavit filed by the ADG of Prison before the Hon’ble High Court in PUCL versus State of Maharashtra, they should essentially house only two third of the official prison capacity which would be equivalent to 1,416 inmates. However, according to Maharashtra State Prison website on April 23, 2021, Taloja Prison houses 3,251 inmates.

Under the Maharashtra Prisons (Prison Hospital) Amendment Rules 2015, prisons should have a Chief Medical Officer (in the rank of Civil Surgeon with Post Graduate Qualification), Medical Officers (in the rank of Assistant Civil Surgeons), Staff Nurses (Male or Female), Pharmacists (Compounders), Male or female Nursing Assistants, Laboratory Technicians (to be trained in handling all equipment including ECG and X-ray machine and Psychiatric Counsellors. Instead, Taloja Hospital has a total of only 3 persons, all of whom are practitioners in Ayurveda.

There are no staff nurses, no pharmacists/compounder, no nursing assistants, no laboratory technicians and no medical specialist (general medicine, dentistry or gynaecologist. There are no psychiatrist counsellors employed. Thus, the plea states that practically none of the requirements for the hospital staff in jail as stipulated in the Maharashtra Prison Manual are complied with.

Necessity to release Father Stan on medical bail

His life is under imminent threat due to his pre-existing medical condition, advanced ages, lack of medical facilities at Taloja and a pandemic that has breached the prison walls and has already infected a fellow inmate who was sharing the same hospital ward where he was also being treated.

It is also amply clear that the trial in the Elgar Parishad- Bhima Koregaon case is going to take a long time, and the same has been acknowledged by the High Court while granting bail to Dr. Varvara Rao. The court had also noted that an undertrial cannot be incarcerated for such a long time when it is a known fact that 200 witnesses are yet to be examined.

Father Stan’s lawyer has also suggested his house arrest under section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The appeal refers to a latest Supreme Court order of May 12, 2021, where it has held that under section 167, the court may order house arrest in cases where the criteria like age, health condition and the antecedents of the accused, the nature of the crime, the need for other forms of custody and the ability to enforce the terms of the house arrest, may be taken into account.

Thus, given his medical history, age and the fact that the National Investigation Agency has never sought his custody, makes him uniquely positioned for house arrest. Father Stan’s bail plea is pending before the High Court and the next hearing is due on May 19.

The medical note may be read here: 


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