Fifty-two-year-old Asit Manna had been undergoing tuberculosis treatment for the past four months at the New Vagrants’ Home in Dhakuria. He died in the room he had been isolated in on Sunday morning, May 11. The only ‘problem’ with the death was that it coincided with the panchayat elections in the state.
According to Supreme Court guidelines and Human Rights Commission directives, all custodial deaths, natural or unnatural, must undergo a magisterial inquest and inquiry. In addition, the post-mortem must be video-filmed. And so, lodging a first information report (FIR) with the local police station is a must.
Officials from the vagrants’ home ran to get the FIR lodged with Kasba police station, where officials reportedly told them they were short of hands, with personnel being deployed on election duty. The vagrancy officials were told to return after May 15 to get the FIR lodged. Kasba thana couldn’t be bothered about whether the body could be kept in the Dhakuria home till then or not.
Officials of the home, located in a residential area, feared that keeping the body for long would raise protests. “We felt the neighbours might object if the body started rotting. Besides, it would also be unhygienic for the other 100-odd inmates,” controller of vagrancy Sudhir Dutta said.
He was told that policemen could not be sent to the home the day vagrant Manna died. Only a sub-inspector made a brief visit. Under Dutta’s instructions, the home manager faxed a complaint to the office of South 24-Parganas district magistrate Alapan Bandopadhyay.
Kasba police station finally accepted the FIR on the morning of Monday, May 12, more than 24 hours after the death. And the body was carried away from the home later in the afternoon. Then, controller of vagrancy Dutta called the sub-divisional officer of Alipore Sadar for a magisterial inquest and inquiry.
A Kasba thana official admitted: “We were short-staffed on Sunday. But considering that the process is so lengthy, we completed the work rather fast!” He explained: “Permission is required from the additional district magistrate’s office for the inquiry, and there has to be a magistrate present to conduct the inquest. In addition, a video-photographer is required for recording the post-mortem. A nod is required for the post-mortem at the calcutta Police morgue. Then, we need a vehicle and a dom to carry the body to the cremation ghat. How can all this be arranged on a Sunday, also a poll day'”