The dead are denied dignity
Geetanjali Minhas | July 17, 2014 | Mumbai
Recalling a personal incident in 2001 after his father-in-law died in a road accident in Mumbai, oncologist Dr Nagaraj Huilgol says the body was brought to the JJ Hospital at 11 pm and the autopsy was conducted the next afternoon (those days post-mortems were not conducted at night) – but only after repeated calls from higher-ups. He saw a drunken ward boy bringing in four bodies on top of each other on a stretcher. His father-in-law’s head was dangling. A body fell down when it was being taken out. After the autopsy, the ward boy told him he would have to pay for stitching the body back, and the charges vary depending on the thread used, cotton or silk. “The system needs an overhaul,” says Huilgol. “Technology used is ancient. Employees are underpaid and overworked, budgets are limited. No appropriate compensations are provided to employees, including doctors. There are no incentives like extra pay (for overtime) or days off (for working on holidays),” he adds.
Despite the population growth, healthcare systems continue to be governed by outdated laws and policies. The health ministry in its 2012 ‘revised guidelines for district hospitals’ has classified post-mortem among ‘ancillary and support services’, and not as an emergency, essential service. (Also read: Sunanda autopsy affidavit reveals plight of Indian forensics)
A forensic scientist, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “We have to keep making rounds for funds. Why? Because priorities are different. When qualified persons are available, why can they not be employed and quality services given at post-mortem centres? Eight percent sanctioned posts in government hospitals are lying vacant. As a result, the staff is overburdened.”
The scientist also blames police for some of the problems. He says post-mortem is often delayed because police officers take time in handing over the papers.
Even cases of unclaimed bodies are increasing – on an average seven to 10 bodies are brought from Mumbai railway tracks every day – in addition to cases of suicide, murders, and so on. Though the law requires unidentified bodies to be disposed of within seven days, they pile up in mortuaries which then require more resources to preserve them longer. (Also read: Forensics is nobody’s baby)
On top of that, there are bodies coming in from nearby places: for example, Mumbai’s neighbouring towns like Thane and Kalyan send in unclaimed bodies to big hospitals like the JJ Hospital because they do not have the facilities. Unnecessary referrals too increase the work burden.
“I have seen insects crawling on bodies at mortuaries without air conditioners. And they conduct autopsy and videography under 60-watt bulbs!” says a senior Maharashtra police officer who did not wish to be quoted.
Former CBI director Dr Joginder Singh says, “Ninety percent post mortems are done by ward boys. There is nothing like governance or accountability and violators are not penalised. How relevant are the laws made in 1885? There must be sunset laws that automatically lapse after 10-15 years.”
Criminal advocate Naveen Chomal believes the government spending on forensics in India is very low. “Freezers to preserve bodies are available in very few mortuaries and preference is given to those with money or influence. So, bodies are kept outside and in crucial cases evidence is lost,” he says. Chumal adds there is heavy stink at mortuaries due to unhygienic conditions, and therefore the doctor would stand at the door with handkerchief pressed to his nose, while the ward boy conducts post-mortem and gives him the findings.
Advocate Farhana Shah, who represented the accused in the 1993 bomb blast case as well as Ajmal Kasab, says, “Knowledge of evidence value, that is, what and how evidence has to be preserved, is not understood in India. Though technology has improved, this indifference to crucial evidence has to change.”
(The story appeared in the July 16-31 issue of the magazine)
With the advent of globalization came a new set of challenges for corporations, notably the duty of ensuring the well-being of all stakeholders while also protecting the planet`s natural environment. Although we are dedicated to a faster and more inclusive rate of growth, it is equally imperative that we f
BMC commissioner and administrator Iqbal Singh Chahal has been conferred with a Honorary Doctor of Science Degree (honoris causa) by Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Punjab. Chahal was conferred the degree during the 48th convocation of the University in Amritsar at the hands of Punjab
Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) aims to use a two-track approach on environmental social and corporate governance (ESG). Addressing a conference on ‘ESG for Atmanirbhar Bharat` in Mumbai, Sebi chairperson Madhabi Puri Buch said that that there should not be a single carbo
Presenting authentic information is the prime responsibility of media and that facts should be properly checked before they are put in the public domain, union minister of information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur has said. “While speed with which the information is transmitted is imp
Union minister for finance and corporate affairs Nirmala Sitharaman has concluded the pre-budget consultation meetings for Budget 2023-24 that were held from November 21 to 28 in the virtual mode. More than 110 invitees representing seven stakeholder groups participated in eight meetings sch
The total coal production in the country stands at 448 million tonnes (MT) for the month of October 2022 which is 18% higher than the production of the corresponding period of last year. The growth of coal production from Coal India Ltd (CIL) is also more than 17%. The ministry of coal said