NEW DELHI: Rotting corpses, rusted and outdated post-mortem tools and lack of doctors are a common sight in most of the mortuaries in the national capital, a report submitted in Delhi High Court has said.
Alarmingly, the report also points out that those working in the morgues had life-expectancy below the national average, probably due to the unhygienic conditions in their workplaces. Among several deficiencies are poor condition of cooling chambers, bodies not being covered properly, corpses lying unattended on rickety tables and rusted and outdated instruments for performing autopsy, the report by advocate Saqib, appointed as amicus curiae by high court to inspect how the dead were being treated in the morgues,.
Even viscera samples, which are an important piece of evidence in criminal cases, have been seen lying unattended in open cabinets packed in polythene bags and "anyone could walk away with them", the amicus said.
This was Saqib's third report in the matter as he told the court last week that there has been no improvement in the situation since his earlier reports. There are about 20 morgues, which are run by the government and other agencies.
Noting that the Delhi Police has made autopsies a "matter of routine", it said even in cases where the cause of death is well known to the concerned investigating officer (IO), there is considerable delay in disposal of bodies due to the long time taken by them to submit inquest papers, without which a doctor cannot carry out the post-mortem.
In this context, the report cites letters of an autopsy surgeon of Aruna Asaf Ali Government Hospital to its Medical Superintendent regarding 56 unclaimed unidentified bodies lying for over 72 hours in the mortuary without the inquest papers being submitted by the police for over 20 days.
Subsequent to these letters, the concerned ACP decided to waive of post-mortem for one of the unidentified bodies on the ground that the doctor was harassing them and refusing to perform post-mortem.
Highlighting the "dismal state of affairs" in the morgues, Advocate Saqib has told the court that life- expectancy of the people who work in mortuaries was less than the national average. "This could probably be attributed to the lack of hygienic conditions there due to poor storage practices as well as non-screening of the corpses for harmful diseases and viruses," his report said.
The report also points to the "blame game between the officials" contributing to the delay in carrying out autopsies leading the bodies to rot away rendering the post-mortems unviable as no marks are visible on the corpse.
The amicus told the court that the 26 point guidelines on managing and functioning of mortuaries issued by the Directorate of Health Services of Delhi Government were still not being complied with.
Even the shortcomings pointed out earlier by him have not been rectified, he said, adding that in some morgues, only "cosmetic repairs" like painting of the outer walls were being carried out.
As per a standing order of 1989 of Delhi Police and the criminal procedure code, in cases where the cause of death is established beyond doubt, post-mortem can be dispensed with. Autopsy can also be dispensed with in cases of beggars and destitutes dying in the streets from natural causes without any mark or external injury or in which cause of death is well known, it says.
The high court had appointed advocate Saqib as the amicus curiae to inspect mortuaries in Delhi while hearing a PIL initiated by it after coming to know of an incident in which an eye was gouged out from a murder accused's body kept in the mortuary of Rajan Babu TB Hospital.
The state of affairs in the mortuaries and lack of any steps to rectify the situation had led the judges to remark last week that at times they felt they should quit and go, due to the "disgusting" manner in which the administration worked.
Referring to pictures placed before it of rusted knives and hammers being used for post-mortem, it had said that the bodies "cannot be butchered and hammered like this" and had directed the Delhi government to take immediate steps to upgrade or replace the autopsy instruments.
It directed the police to fully comply with the 1989 standing order with regard to disposal of unclaimed bodies.