With no legislation, standard operating procedure (SOP) or nodal officer to dispose unclaimed dead bodies in the state, the ‘toll of the dead’ continues to pile at the mortuary of the Goa Medical College.
Its over four-months since the death of Goa based activist Fr. Bismarque Dias and two months since the investigators have completed forensic examination of his body. “We have told the family atleast two-times that the body of the Fr. Dias was no longer needed from investigation point of view, and have requested them to take it and perform final ritual. However the family unsatisfied with the investigation has declined to collect it. Therefore it still remains at the morgue,” Goa Director General of Police, T N Mohan earlier said speaking to The Indian Express .
However at Asia’s largest mortuary – the Goa Medical College, it is not a single case of undisposed body, but of its total mortuary capacity of 108 cabins, nearly 97 of the bodies face status, with the oldest unclaimed body lying for the last four years.
State department officials say that neither the police, GMC nor local civic administration have any discretionary authority to dispose the unclaimed body and therefore it continues to be unclear on who has the final word over it. “While in the cases of unnatural death or Medico Legal Cases (MLC’s), police soon after investigation certify death and send requisition to dispose them. The problem lies in the Non-MLC cases, an official with the State department of health says.
“In almost all the states unclaimed or unidentified bodies are disposed within 24-48 hours, but the peculiar lacunae in the Goa’s state laws allows the dead body to be stored indefinitely at the mortuary,” a departmental official says.
While until August, as per the reply given by Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, who also holds health portfolio to the Goa assembly the body count at mortuary was 70, but in seven month shot up by 39 per cent.
The police on the other hand say that they can certify certain unclaimed bodies that are ‘fit’ for study purpose, subsequently such bodies are dispatched to the Anatomy section at GMC – which annually requires 15 body for dissection classes. “But we are not at the liberty to authorise the hospital to dispose rest of the bodies, which may be infected, or a foreign citizen case or embroiled in controversy, because if later claims arise we will be hauled up for enquiry, a senior police official says.
Moreover officials at the District Collectors office say that even if the GMC official request them permission for disposing unclaimed bodies they usually redirect the matter to police. “So its a classic example of running from pillar to post,” a doctor from Hospicio hospital adds. The need of the hour is a nodal officer or authority who can order the disposal of unclaimed bodies and implement SOP, the medical faculty agrees in unanimity. Unfortunately, they add while several discussions have taken place with subsequent state government’s, such proposals only remain on paper and nothing has materialised.
It was in early 2015, that GMC staff had to insist the Goa government to exhume the body of a Russian woman who had died natural death in 2010. “It was a natural death, but the Russian authorities were not able to trace her kin, later they claimed that she was not their national, irrespective of her passport suggesting it. After nearly five years of repeated appeal to Russian authorities failed, the state government took the decision of dispose the body as it had deteriorated beyond any purpose,” the official said. However for each and every case we cant run to the government, there needs to be a mechanism in place, another Doctor from South Goa adds.
Responding to the queries by The Indian Express, Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, who additionally holds portfolio of Health said that efforts are being made to streamline the process. “I have already instructed the Health Secretary to examine and expedite the process of disposing unclaimed bodies. But sometime things are caught up in investigation – so we cannot take any action. On the other hand the foreign embassies do not quickly act on our request to process the cases of its own citizens. Moreover the attempt to identify and inform the kins of the deceased is also subject to their arrival. All these factors lead up to the increase in the body count at GMC. But we are trying to put-up a process where the bodies can be disposed swiftly if there are no claimants,” he said