Sunanda autopsy: Doctor claimed pressure second time around, after govt change

In his letter sent to new Health Minister and AIIMS president Dr Harsh Vardhan also, Gupta mentioned the two cases.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Updated: July 3, 2014 8:16:25 am
Sunanda Pushkar, wife of former union minister Shashi Tharoor was found dead in a hotel room on January 17, 2014. (Source: AP/ File) Sunanda Pushkar, wife of former union minister Shashi Tharoor was found dead in a hotel room on January 17, 2014. (Source: AP/ File)

There is more than one political twist in the case of AIIMS doctor Sudhir Gupta who has alleged he was under pressure to act “unprofessionally” in the Sunanda Tharoor autopsy.

In his first affidavit to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) on May 13, Gupta, head of AIIMS forensic medicine department, only contested the promotion of a colleague. In his representation to the then Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on May 6 and to AIIMS director Dr M C Misra on May 12 also, he only gave his views on why his colleague was not eligible for promotion.

It was only in his second submission, a letter to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on May 27, a day after the BJP-led government was sworn in, that Gupta alleged an “illegal, politically motivated agenda to oust me from the post of HoD since I have taken an honest and ethical stand in the post-mortem in the Sunanda Pushkar and Nido Tania cases.” In his letter sent to new Health Minister and AIIMS president Dr Harsh Vardhan also, Gupta mentioned the two cases.

Subsequently, in his rejoinder to the CAT filed on June 26, Gupta alleged that AIIMS was acting “at the instance of its former president with mala fide intention to punish” him for “refusing to act unprofessionally in the Sunanda Pushkar autopsy matter.”

As evidence of the “pressure”, he attached a copy of an email, purportedly sent by an independent doctor to Pushkar’s husband, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Recalling that he had examined Pushkar on December 12 last year, the email says, “Coconut water, which has a very high content of potassium, could have elevated her serum potassium levels and possibly slowed her heart rate. In addition, if she took alprax, it could have contributed to the slowing down of her heart rate and made it possibly difficult for her to call for help.”

Gupta also attached a reply purportedly sent by Tharoor in which he states that he will share the opinion with “Dr Mishra of AIIMS”. Gupta has alleged in his affidavit that this is a reference to AIIMS director Dr M C Misra.

Gupta has said this email, dated January 26, shows Tharoor has “admitted influencing Director, AIIMS, for a tailor made autopsy report”. In the email, Tharoor purportedly states, “I’m drawing this to the attention of Dr Mishra of AIIMS through our mutual friend… I recall your fear that without regular hydration and salt intake, she could suffer from recurring episodes of dangerously low blood pressure. Clearly, this must have occurred since she was not eating or drinking properly for two or three days.”

Puskhar’s body was discovered at 8:30 pm on January 17, and she was declared dead at 2:40 am on January 18. The post-mortem was performed at AIIMS on January 18, and the report was submitted at 5:30 pm on January 20.

Gupta also attached a note titled “To whomsoever it may concern”, dated February 12, signed by a specialist from Dubai, written “completely on my own initiative in the hope that it might shed some light on cause of her death”. Stating that he is “distressed about the media speculation about the cause of her death”, the specialist purportedly says that “whilst I do not claim to know the facts surrounding her death, being a close friend who happened to be a doctor, I was privy to some medical issues in her life” which, he says, he wished to document “as this might help in determining her cause of death.”

In the email, the specialist mentions that Pushkar told him she had an auto-immune disorder called Lupus, and had “repeated episodes” of “plummeting blood pressure in Dubai”. He says “she used to bruise easily and we have discussed this several times in passing. A mere injection for blood test or bumping into a piece of furniture could result in visible bruising. I am concerned as bruising on her body is being discussed as inflicted in the media”.

Gupta alleged that “continuous pressure is being created upon the applicant by calling for repeated meeting on the said autopsy matter by the Director, AIIMS.” He said the AIIMS Director had “personally called the applicant and asked him to give clean chit in the late Sunanda Pushkar matter irrespective of the professional opinion of the applicant. Since the applicant refused to oblige he is being hounded by his loyalist in AIIMS.”

He attached a note, dated June 2, for a meeting on the Pushkar autopsy. In his rejoinder affidavit, Gupta said he “could not muster the courage of openly placing the facts in black and white as the former president of AIIMS Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad was an immensely powerful politician and then the Health Minister and the husband of late Sunanda Pushkar was also a minister and a powerful politician.”

This comes amid a series of showcause notices and a vigilance enquiry against Gupta at AIIMS. According to sources, on June 14, Gupta received a showcause notice on a complaint dated March 1 of “unethical and unlawful media leakages of medico legal post-mortem” and “holding press conferences immediately after conducting post-mortem”. In his reply on June 18, Gupta said he only conducted one press conference (in the Pushkar case), in the presence of AIIMS spokespersons.

On June 12, Gupta received an MCI notice on a 2002 plagiarism case against him which had been originally heard and dispensed with by the Delhi Medical Council.

In his post-mortem report in the Pushkar case, Gupta had said, “To the best of my knowledge and belief, the cause of death in this case is from poisoning… and the circumstantial evidence is suggestive of alprazolam poisoning”. He said the 15 injuries, including bruises and abrasions “are caused by blunt force, simple in nature and not contributing to death.”

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