The amicus curiae appointed by the Delhi High Court to look into “pathetic” conditions at mortuaries in government hospitals Wednesday informed the court “many” employees in the main morgue attached to the Aruna Asaf Ali Hospital were “dying before their retirement age” due to exposure to infections.
Advocate Saquib told the bench of Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva the allegation regarding premature death of doctors and other employees was made by a morgue employee during an inspection on September 12 by a team including Health Minister Satyendar Jain and senior standing counsel Rahul Mehra.
The bench observed “what the people have to endure” was “disgusting”, and commented the apathy and the situation made one “want to resign and run away.”
The bench asked the government to come up with a screening process to ensure morgue employees were not exposed to bodies with communicable diseases.
“Is there any SOP or screening process?” the court asked.
Mehra admitted there was little equipment available to the morgue employees, adding the inspection team “could not find enough masks”. Mehra told the court the government would put it “in order”.
“You think the mortuary belongs to dead people so everything there should be dead. The people working there are also dying,” commented the bench.
The court expressed anger after taking note of photographs of rusted tables and post-mortem tools, including an old fashioned hammer and hacksaw, and broken cabinets for storage of bodies at the Sabzi Mandi morgue submitted by the amicus curiae. Advocate Saquib also told the court viscera samples were “kept in plastic bags on an open shelf” in a room with no air conditioning.
“These tools belong in a museum,” commented the bench, adding that the dead “cannot be butchered and hammered like this”.
The court directed the Delhi government to start purchase of new tables and basic tools for the morgue within a week, and expedite the process of upgrading the morgues.
Mehra told the court the government had decided to upgrade morgues at all nine government hospitals in the city within six months. The court said it would monitor the progress every month.
The bench also pulled up the Delhi Police for the lapses in following rules regarding removal of unidentified bodies from morgues. A PIL in this connection was taken up suo motu by the court after news reports on morgue staff throwing unclaimed bodies on the road due to lack of space.
A lawyer had also filed a separate PIL before the court after a body in the morgue was eaten “by rats”.
Advocate Saquib in his report informed the court overcrowding at the morgue was because the police did not remove unclaimed and unidentified bodies after the 72-hour period prescribed under rules, and also asked for post-mortem reports in cases where the cause of death was “natural” or “obvious”. The report further states that the inquest papers for conducting the post-mortem were not provided in a timely manner by the police, leading to delays in the proceedings and decay of the bodies.
The court also took note of reports filed in a few cases, of unidentified bodies, where the mortuary in-charge and area SHO recorded no post-mortem was required.
However, the police later claimed the morgue staff was “harassing” police personnel and “refusing to conduct post-mortem”.
“The mortuary in-charge is repeatedly writing that please take away the bodies as there is no PM required, why is the police claiming that the staff is harassing them? What is the police doing?” asked the court.
The bench directed the police to “fully and timely comply” with standing orders issued by the Commissioner in 1989 regarding removal of unclaimed bodies.
The amicus curiae’s report also mentions the lack of cleanliness and equipment at other mortuaries including at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital at Dilshad Garden, Swami Dayanand Hospital and LNJP Hospital.