“Lack of coordination between the jail administration office and the medical superintendent of the jail hospital/ dispensary”

In an inquiry report submitted to the Delhi High Court regarding the death of a physically-challenged undertrial prisoner lodged at Tihar Central Jail, a District Judge has made some disturbing observations about the medical care made available to the prisoner in jail.

V. R. Santosh Kumar was an accused in a case where a fire had broken out in an old-age home that killed one person. He was arrested on December 20, 2010, and lodged at Tihar jail, until his death on February 25, 2012, at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. A native of Kerala, he had consumed acid in 2002 due to which his oesophagus got burnt and he was unable to eat, drink or consume food through his mouth. A feeding tube (jejunostomy tube) was inserted into his stomach and he was completely dependent on liquid food. In 2009, he came to Delhi.

At Tihar, jail authorities did not provide him with a grinder to break down the food until he approached a court. In December 2011, his health had started deteriorating, and it was at this time that his special diet was allegedly cancelled by the Senior Medical Officer of Jail No:4. The feeding tube had also started leaking and Santosh allegedly lost around 20 kg within a span of two months.

On January 9, 2012, Santosh pleaded to a Sessions Judge at Patiala House for medical treatment, but Tihar Jail officials seem to have ignored the court order. The court again intervened after another letter from Santosh and on January 16, he was taken to AIIMS Hospital. At AIIMS, Santosh was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and his treatment started on February 7. On February 14, he was discharged from AIIMS and sent back to jail. But the same day, he was taken to DDU Hospital. Despite his death at DDU Hospital on February 25, Tihar officials informed ASJ Lal Singh about his death only four days later.

Activists then filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court in May 2012 naming several Tihar Jail officials as respondents. An inquiry by a district judge was ordered.

In his inquiry report, District and Sessions Judge I. S. Mehta noted that Santosh’s weight was 58 kg on August 20, 2010, when he was admitted to Tihar Jail. It had fallen by 5 kg in February 2011, after which Tihar Jail had no records for his weight measurement. When his weight was measured at AIIMS, nearly a year later, it had fallen alarmingly to 28 kg.

Regarding this, the report says: “It is something very serious which the jail authorities should have taken care of. But either the over-admission (of inmates) in Tihar Jail or for reasons best known to them the weight of deceased Santosh Kumar could not be monitored as there is lack of coordination between the jail administration office and the medical superintendent of the jail hospital/ dispensary.”

Two letters written by Santosh to the ASJ in the two months prior to his death, in which he has vividly documented his poor health condition and the alleged mistreatment by jail officials, was also considered. “The aforesaid letters of Santosh Kumar is a crystal clear picture of the relevant point of time that he was in need of better food, better medical treatment, and better treatment in jail.

The plea from the side of the jail administration that the patient was non-cooperative loses its significance as Santosh Kumar started losing faith in the jail administration for his betterment which indicates there is a requirement of either trained staff or sensitisation and training of good human behaviour towards the destitutes or inmates.”

The discharge summary from AIIMS on February 14, 2012, indicated that Santosh suffered from tuberculosis for several months, which went undetected, despite his chronic weight loss. On this, the report said: “It is the hard luck of the deceased Santosh Kumar that he was never sent to undergo clinical examination on the point of tuberculosis in the absence of proper monitoring of weight…further an infection accrued around the jejunostomy (feeding) tube which ultimately spread into the stomach…which resulted in his death.”

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