Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, may have died of poisoning due to an overdose of the anti-anxiety drug Alprax, according to sources in Delhi Police. The assessment is based on a report prepared by an AIIMS medical board, which analysed the findings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Pushkar’s viscera samples, said sources.
The medical board submitted its report on Friday to a police Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Pushkar’s death in a New Delhi hotel on January 17, 2014.
“It appears that she took multiple tablets of Alprax which generated poison in her body which finally killed her. We are now probing whether she took the tablets or was given a high dose,” said sources.
Taken usually in a 0.25-mg dose, Alprax acts as a tranquiliser to control anxiety. Doctors prescribe it as a sleep inducer to some patients — in very high doses it can be fatal.
In a statement, Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi said Pushkar’s death was unnatural but added that no radioactive substance was found inside her body.
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“The police will take the case’s investigation to its logical conclusion. The report received from AIIMS is detailed, running into 11 pages and containing an annexure of 30 pages,” said Bassi.
“Radiation levels in Pushkar’s body were found to be within the acceptable range and the cause of death is poisoning,” said the police chief.
He refused to divulge the name of the poisonous substance. “Members of the SIT will examine the AIIMS report and will reach a conclusion soon,” said Bassi.
The FBI report, which came in the first week of November last year, was sent to the AIIMS medical board for “a final observation”. It “reiterated” the findings of an earlier report by AIIMS, said the institute’s forensic department chief Dr Sudhir Gupta.
“The FBI team has reiterated our findings and fully endorsed the AIIMS report, which said the cause of death is poisoning. Based on circumstantial evidence, we had identified some chemicals which could act as poisons. The FBI team has identified the same chemicals in all of Pushkar’s samples,” said Dr Gupta.
The AIIMS report had identified Ethyl Alcohol, Alprazolam, caffeine, Acetaminophen and Cotinine among other chemicals, said sources. The FBI report has said that some of these chemicals, when given in an injectible form, can cause death, they said.
Dr Gupta said he continued to stand by his team’s findings that the cause of death was poisoning. “We have maintained our findings from the start. This is not a natural death and it appears to be a case of death from poisoning. Based on all the forensic reports, I continue to stand by our findings,” said Dr Gupta.
According to sources, the board also questioned how two government laboratories — Central Forensic Science Laboratory and Forensic Science Laboratory — failed to identify the chemicals in Pushkar’s viscera samples even though the earlier report mentioned the possible cause of death.
The report said this “raises grave concerns about the quality of investigation, custody and analysis of biological evidences, since two Delhi laboratories couldn’t detect the poison which has been clearly mentioned in the post-mortem report which stalled the investigations,” said sources.
Earlier, Bassi tweeted that Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deepak Mishra will review the progress of the case. “Have been told that Medical Board’s advice in late Sunanda’s case has been received. Deepak is reviewing progress. Merits shall be ensured,” stated the tweet.
(With inputs from Alok Singh)