INDIA: Poor condition of the Basirhat Hospital morgue represents the collapse of post mortem system in West Bengal
August 3, 2005
ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
3 August 2005
UG-04-2005: INDIA: Poor condition of the Basirhat Hospital morgue represents the collapse of post mortem system in West Bengal
INDIA: Defective policing and post mortem procedures
Further to its previous urgent appeals and statements regarding the appalling conditions of morgues and the consequent ill treatment of dead bodies, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to share information received from MASUM, a human rights organisation in West Bengal, about the Basirhat Hospital morgue in West Bengal, India.
According to MASUM's fact-finding team, at present the morgue is holding more than 150 bodies, the majority of which are unclaimed and unidentified, some having been there for more than three years. Mainly decomposed and rotten, the bodies are kept in a room with no door or windows; the morgue's deep fridge and air conditioner have been dysfunctional for a long time. Stray dogs, vultures and kites feast on the remnants of bodies in the compound. Information reveals that this is not the only hospital morgue in which dead bodies are handled in this fashion. It is the general practice in all government morgues. For instance, please see the following photos of bodies discarded after post mortems at the Srirampur Government Hospital, Hooghly, West Bengal (Photo 1, Photo 2).
When government authorities were approached regarding the conditions at the Basirhat Hospital morgue, they attempted to avoid responsibility by citing a lack of funds or pointing fingers at other government agencies. The AHRC has constantly pointed out that the terrible conditions of morgues and defective post mortem procedures in West Bengal are linked to the faulty criminal justice system. A defective post mortem system encourages custodial deaths and extra-judicial killings. There is thus no excuse for state authorities to ignore the terrible conditions of the Basirhat morgue. If in fact there is a lack of funds, this speaks to the low priority processes essential to the prevention of crime and protection of human rights by the state government.
We therefore urge you to write to the West Bengal government and demand that they immediately look into the poor conditions of the Basirhat morgue as well as other morgues. Proper funds must be allocated for their adequate functioning and those responsible for their maintenance must be held accountable.
Please see the following for further information regarding morgues, post-mortem procedures and the criminal justice system in West Bengal:
AG-01-2004: INDIA: AHRC letter to the President of India regarding the horrendous practices during forensic examinations in West Bengal
AS-09-2004: INDIA: A human body preserved like a fish and a rotten criminal justice system in West Bengal
AS-03-2004: Custodial deaths in West Bengal and India's refusal to ratify the Convention against Torture
AS-70-2005: INDIA: Failure of the justice system means impunity for torturers
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
MASUM, a human rights organisation in West Bengal, India carried out an investigation into the conditions of the morgue at the Basirhat Hospital under North 24-Parganas District, West Bengal, India, and were shocked at not only the appalling conditions, but also the attitudes of the various government officials they spoke to.
Firstly, it must be understood that although post-mortem examinations in West Bengal are meant to be carried out by medical officers attached to government hospitals under the Ministry of Health, it is the police force, under the Home Department, which is responsible for budgetary and other matters. For this reason, MASUM questioned numerous police officers regarding the debilitating conditions of the Basirhat Hospital morgue, where more than 150 bodies lie, most unidentified, in a room with no doors or windows, and with no deep fridge or air conditioning, both of which have been dysfunctional for some time now. For this reason, most of the bodies are now decomposed, with only skeletons remaining. The morgue's open compound is a site for stray dogs, vultures and kites to feed on the remnants of bodies. While some of the officers cited a lack of funds for the morgue's poor conditions, others refused responsibility.
Inspector-in-Charge of the Basirhat police station, Mr Sasanka Chakrabarty responded that the severe lack of funds meant there was little they could do to repair the morgue. Both Mr Krishna Lal Maity, Circle Inspector of Police, and Mr Dilip Bannerjee, Additional Superintendent of Police, 24 Parganas (North) District however, stated that it was not the duty of the police to maintain the morgue.
The Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of the Home Department, Mr Mussir Alam claimed that nobody had informed him of the condition of the morgue and no money had been asked for repairs. However, MASUM came across a letter sent by the Assistant Engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD), Basirhat (memo no. 483, dated 2 March 2005) to Mr Alam's office as well as to the Additional District Magistrate, North 24 Parganas asking for an immediate sanction of Rs 50,8194. Needless to say, there has been no reply.
Meanwhile, Superintendent of the Basirhat Hospital, Dr Pinaki Chakrabarty, simply said that as he had been in this position for only a month, he should not be held responsible for anything. He also asserted that the number of unclaimed bodies in the morgue was only 40, and the rest had been cremated. He was unable however, to say why more bodies were seen lying in the morgue, what the names of the dead were, or the dates of the post mortems.
Secondly, although medical officers are supposed to carry out post mortem examinations, in actual fact it is the doms, a sub-caste of the Dalits (untouchables), who are usually completely uneducated and often drunk on the job, simply cut the bodies and open them using crude tools while the doctors are simply observers and sign the necessary documents. In this situation, the role of post-mortems and autopsies in establishing the cause of death and detecting the responsible perpetrators is demoted.
Under the dreadful situation, the relatives of the deceased pay 'extra incentives' to doctors and doms, when they conduct a post mortem. But it only guarantees suturing of the body after the post mortem examination. When he was interviewed by MASUM, Jogiya Dom, the 55-year-old permanent staff of the Basirhat Hospital who is frequently involved in the post mortem, said that he usually collects Rs 250 per body from the relatives of the deceased for cremation, because he is not paid for cremation charges from the state government.
In addition, in many cases throughout India, doctors even deliberately or carelessly submits false reports after being bribed which are used as crucial evidence in court. As a result, the perpetrators of crimes escape detection. The situation is getting worse, if the case is related to custodial death or extra judicial killings committed by the law enforcement officers, mainly the police. In this case, autopsy reports are often prepared according to the instructions of the investigating officers who are from the same police station where a person was killed in custody. (AS-70-2005)
Murder of 17-year-old Mousumi Ari will be a good example. She was murdered by her in-laws but the Kakdwip police deliberately eliminated evidence from the crime scene and managed to receive the post mortem report from doctor which stated that it is a suicide case. All these cover-ups took place because one of the accused, the father-in-law of the victim, was attached to the investigating police station. However, when post mortem was conducted again due to huge pressure from the local and international community, it revealed that Mousimi was severely tortured and in fact murdered. (UA-33-2004 and UP-18-2004)
Therefore, the AHRC thus presses the West Bengal state government to immediately correct the situation in morgues throughout the state and ensure that the basic rights of the dead and their families are upheld. In addition, the National Human Rights Commission of India in its guidelines has very clearly mentioned that all post mortem examinations in respect of custodial deaths should be video-filmed and a copy of the recording be sent to the NHRC along with the post mortem report. However, these directions have not been performed in reality. The West Bengal state government must ensure that this is carried out.
The AHRC reminds again that Callousness in handling dead bodies as mentioned above and exploitation of death is also a crime that comes under the ambit of the term 'torture' according to the UN Convention against Torture. The Government of India must ratify the convention and strictly implement it into domestic level without delay to prevent such crimes in the country.
Please send a letter to the relevant authorities listed below regarding the condition of Basirhat morgue and your concerns in respect to post mortem procedures.
Re: INDIA: Poor condition of the Basirhat Hospital morgue represents the collapse of post mortem system in West Bengal
I write to you in shock regarding the appalling conditions of the Basirhat Hospital morgue, West Bengal, India which is indicative of the defective post mortem and criminal justice procedures existing in West Bengal. This also results in the complete denial of justice to victims of murder and their families.
According to the information I have received, the Basirhat morgue has more than 150 bodies, the majority of which are unclaimed and unidentified, some having been there for more than three years. The bodies are mainly decomposed and rotten, kept in a room with no door or windows; the deep fridge and the air conditioner have been dysfunctional for a long time now. In the open compound in front of this so-called morgue, street dogs, vultures and kites feast on the remnants of the bodies. Information reveals that this is not the only morgue in which dead bodies are handled in such a fashion. It is the general practice at all morgues in government hospitals.
In addition, in West Bengal, although medical officers attached to government hospitals under the Department of Health are supposed to carry out post mortem examinations, in actual fact it is the doms, a sub-caste of the Dalits (untouchables) who are usually unqualified, who do it instead, while the doctors are simply observers and sign the necessary documents. Those documents are used as evidence in court, resulting in the perpetrators of crimes walking free.
Despite the horrible conditions of the Basirhat morgue, various responsible officers, including Inspector-in-Charge of the Basirhat Police Station, Circle Inspector of Police, and Additional Superintendent of Police of 24 Parganas (North) District, Sub-Divisional Officer of the Home Department and Superintendent of the Basirhat Hospital, are simply avoiding responsibility by citing a lack of funds or pointing fingers at other departments.
I must remind you that defective post mortem system encourages custodial deaths and extra-judicial killings committed by law enforcement officers, especially the police. There is thus no excuse for state authorities to ignore the terrible conditions of the Basirhat morgue.
I therefore urge you to look into the poor conditions of the Basirhat morgue as well as other morgues. Proper funds must be allocated for their adequate functioning and those responsible for their maintenance must be held accountable. I also urge you to strictly implement the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission of India, which mentions that all post mortem examinations in respect of custodial deaths should be video-filmed and a copy of the recording should be sent to the NHRC along with the post mortem report. Autopsy Report forms prescribed by the NHRC should be used to record the findings of the post-mortem examination.
Lastly, I urge you to use your authority to work towards India's ratification of UN Convention against Torture and implementation into the domestic level without delay. Callousness in handling dead bodies and exploitation of death is also a crime that comes under the ambit of the term 'torture' according to the convention. The Government of India must take genuine action to prevent such crimes in the country.
SEND A LETTER TO:
1. Mr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
President of India
New Delhi - 110 004
Fax: +91 11 23017290/ 23017824
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
Room No. 152, South Block,
New Delhi - 110 001
Tel: +91 11 23012312 / 23013149 / 23019545
Fax: +91 11 23016857
3. Justice A.S. Anand
Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg,
New Delhi - 110 001
Tel. no. +91 11 23382742
Fax no. +91 11 23384863
4. Shri Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister and Minister in Charge of Home (Police) Department
Government of West Bengal
Writers' Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480
5. Mr. P.R. Ray
Government of West Bengal
Writers' Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
Tel: +91 33 2214 5656
Fax: +91 33 2214 3001
6. Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra
Ministry of Health
Writers' Buildings, Kolkata-700001
Tel: +91 33 22145600; Extn:4117
7. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
8. Mr. Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions
c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 917 9155
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (general)
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)