CHENNAI: Did former Union telecom minister A Raja’s sidekick Sadhick Batcha (39) kill himself on March 16 last? Or was he bumped off? Batcha’s wife found his body hanging at their residence in Chennai. The death came a few days before he was expected to be arrested as the former minister’s dirty money trail led to his company, Green House Promoters. Was he silenced for good?
Hours after the tragic incident, the police had suggested it was suicide. Batcha’s wife too claimed likewise. Dr V Dekal, who performed the autopsy, attributed the death to asphyxia but did not specify that it was a suicide or rule out murder. Realising the sensitive nature of the case, Dr Dekal requested the Directorate of Medical Education (DME), Chennai, to constitute a panel comprising four medical experts to give a final opinion on the postmortem report. The DME rejected Dekal’s request, citing a 60-year old medical code of Tamil Nadu. The case then went to the CBI, which formed a special team of experts to review the autopsy report. So, was it suicide or murder? The jury is still out.
That brings us to the big question: Are autopsy reports in Tamil Nadu reliable? Do they really reflect the nature of death or are they doctored to stay in tune with the police theory or political leadership? Professionals hotly deny any slant in their postmortem reports. But probe further and you will find a different story.
A visit to the stinking mortuary at the Government Royapettah Hospital is revealing. Most autopsies there are done by medical assistants and technicians instead of forensic experts, who alone are authorised to examine the bodies. It is like allowing a nurse to perform a surgery.
“We are under tremendous pressure. We have done a postmortem today but the forensic expert, who is in charge of the mortuary, is hardly bothered about finding out what is happening in the mortuary. The experts pay a visit once a week just to sign the postmortem reports,” rue some medical assistants.
Is that the way autopsies are done in all government hospitals? “What is there to hide? The situation is more or less identical in all government hospitals in Tamil Nadu. In fact, 99 per cent of postmortem reports are given as per the inquest report filed by the police,” say a cross-section of forensic experts.
They see Dr Dekal, who later resigned to contest the Assembly elections, as a hero who stood up to the DME and spoke his mind. The DME, who was in charge of medical education, treats the forensic department as an ‘outcaste’, claims a senior forensic expert, adding: “A forensic doctor has to handle between 50 to100 postmortem cases per month. We are mentally drained because of overwork. The lack of hygiene and stink in the mortuary makes us sick.”
In all, there are 20 government medical colleges in Tamil Nadu. Each college receives at least 2,000 autopsy cases per month, but there are just 17 forensic doctors in the State to do postmortem. Of them, seven are in Chennai, manning the four major government hospitals.
“With more than 50 posts for forensic doctors lying vacant for ages in the 20 colleges, how can you expect us to do a proper autopsy? Except for a few controversial cases, we simply go by the suggestions made in the inquest report given by the police,” the doctor admits.
The situation is even worse in the district and taluk-level government hospitals. “There are no trained forensic doctors in such hospitals, so the postmortem reports will be decided as per the wishes and fancies of the police officer,” he added.
Explaining why performing an autopsy is a time-consuming job, a forensic expert says that to identity the cause and time of the death, they had to do various examinations that include studying the clothes the deceased wore at the time of death and examining every part of the body for minute details.
“Only if we give a substantial postmortem report could the investigating officer find out the manner and cause of death,” says the expert.
But all these things are not properly done as the department is understaffed and morges lack in infrastructure facilities. That is the reason behind advocate Ashok Kumar moving the Madras High Court and getting order to set up a three-doctor autopsy panel to determine the cause of his son Sathish Kumar’s death. The 34-year-old’s body was found in a tank in the Integral Coach Factory premises.
Another problem forensic experts face is the low fee for conducting and submitting autopsy reports. It is just Rs 150 for a postmortem in Tamil Nadu, while the neighbouring Karnataka pays Rs 300 in the normal course and Rs 500 if the autopsy is done after 5 pm. For submitting a report in court, the doctors are paid a meagre fee of Rs 12 per case.
Due to these factors no medical student came forward to specialise in forensic science between1997 to 2001 in the state. Only after 2001, more than 15 have got MD in forensic science, but 10 among them, who are according to rule have to serve in the forensic department for two years, didn’t join duty, claims the forensic experts. But the DME has not bothered about taking action against them, they say.
Unless the government wakes up and revives the department and make the defence counsel of the case part of the postmortem team, the situation will not change.
A doctor representing the defence counsel, which was seen in the Sathish Kumar case, has happened only for the second time in the medico-legal history of Tamil Nadu. The government should make it compulsory in all cases. Only then people will get justice, feel forensic experts in general.