Journalist Siddique Kappan. Photo: PTI

By V. Venkatesan

New Delhi: The contempt of court notice, issued by Siddique Kappan’s lawyer Wills Mathews on May 9 at 1:45 am to five authorities in Uttar Pradesh government, is titled “Most Urgent: Life in Danger/Immediate Action Required”, but does not fail to be civil in the manner in which it addresses the state before explaining its grounds. The five authorities in Uttar Pradesh, however, will have a hard time explaining to the Supreme Court why they failed to show similar courtesies to the court and Kappan’s wife, Raihanath Kappan, when it came to complying with the court’s orders.

The first addressee mentioned in the contempt notice is the senior superintendent of Mathura District Jail, Shailendra Kumar Maitrey, who has been asked to share the notice with the remaining addressees immediately by email with information over the phone. The remaining addressees include special secretaries, Department of Home Affairs, Lucknow, Satya Prakash Upadhyay and Kumar Prashant, chief secretary, Rajendra Kumar Tiwari, and director general of police, Hitesh Chandra Awasthy.

The Supreme Court, in its order on April 28, in the writ petition filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists seeking Kappan’s release, directed these authorities to provide adequate and effective medical assistance to Kappan, and to allay all apprehensions relating to his health. The court found it would be in the interest of justice to shift him to a hospital in Delhi for proper medical treatment.

The bench of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna on perusal of the reports submitted by the state government, found Kappan had tested positive for COVID-19 on April 21, had a fever going up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit and had also suffered an injury as he fainted and fell down in the bathroom for which intervention of a surgeon was suggested. The bench also found Kappan was suffering from multiple health issues like diabetes, heart ailment, blood pressure and bodily injury. The bench also noted the fact that the state government had submitted another set of medical reports which showed that Kappan had tested COVID-19 negative.

Refraining from examining the facts on merits, the bench confined itself to providing adequate healthcare to Kappan. However, on the ground that the investigation against Kappan is complete and a voluminous chargesheet running into over 5,000 pages has been filed, the bench disposed of the writ petition.

The UP government, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had, however, opposed shifting Kappan to Delhi for better medical treatment, saying “adequate medical treatment is being provided as in the case of all other jail inmates, and if need be further facility shall be extended to the arrestee (Kappan)”.

The bench rejected Mehta’s plea, and stated that the most precious fundamental right to life unconditionally embraces even an undertrial.  “Merely because the other jail inmates are receiving treatment similar to the arrestee need not deter us”, the bench had responded to Mehta.

The bench, however, added that as soon as Kappan recovers and the doctors certify him fit to be discharged, he would be shifted back to Mathura jail.

Kappan was shifted from Mathura jail to AIIMS, New Delhi in an ambulance and was under treatment there since April 30. Kappan’s family and lawyer were not informed about his medical condition till May 7. On May 1, Raihanath Kappan came to Delhi from Kerala along with her son to meet Kappan. The authorities, however, citing COVID-19 protocols, denied her permission.

The discharge summary issued by AIIMS states about Kappan suffered from mild COVID-19 and was given treatment. On May 7, Raihanath Kappan got a call from her husband around 11:30 am stating that he was brought to Mathura jail at around 2:30 am and was accommodated in a shabby room, not given food, and did not know whether he was COVID-19 positive or negative. Kappan also sounded very depressed and weak to Raihanath. On May 8, E.T. Mohammed Basheer, Lok Sabha MP from Kerala, who had requested AIIMS on behalf of Raihanath seeking a meeting with her husband on May 3, got a reply stating that Kappan is COVID-19 positive and as per extant policy, personal attendants/family members are not allowed in COVID-19 designated impatient (sic) areas. “Accordingly, it will not be possible to allow wife of Sidheeq Kappen (sic) to meet him,” medical superintendent, Dr D.K.Sharma, replied to Basheer, with the approval of the director, AIIMS. Clearly, if on May 8 Kappan was COVID-19-positive, he could not be found fit for discharge from hospital, during the midnight of May 8-9, and shifted to Mathura.

In the contempt notice issued to the Uttar Pradesh government authorities, Mathews asked how a person with diabetes and other serious medical issues could recover from COVID-19 in six days, and again get COVID-19 in the following six days of recovery. He also asked the authorities to explain whether the stand taken by them before the Supreme Court about Kappan’s COVID-19 negative report was just a ruse to deny him the basic right to get treatment.

Alleging wilful and deliberate violation of the Supreme Court’s April 28 order, Mathews alleged that the state government took Kappan at midnight, depriving him of sleep, back to Mathura jail, and again kept him in inhuman conditions. The torture inflicted on Kappan and the denial of Raihanath’s right to meet her husband during his treatment in Delhi amounted to silencing the media, he further alleged. The non-compliance of the specific directions of the Supreme Court is an act leading to an end of rule of law, the notice claimed.

Mathews, in his notice, told the UP government that he would mention the matter before 3 pm on Monday before the CJI for immediate hearing, if Kappan is not shifted back to AIIMS hospital or any other reputed hospital in Delhi within six hours of the receipt of the notice – a deadline which has already expired. Mathews also requested permission for Raihanath to meet her husband if he is shifted to New Delhi or through video conferencing facilities, if she is unable to come again from Kerala due to various constraints. If the UP authorities pleaded inability to spend on Kappan’s treatment, Mathews claimed his clients are prepared to take him to Calicut Medical College, Kerala or any other hospital near their residence at their cost.

This story first appeared on thewire.in