Sunanda Pushkar death case: Probe centered on autopsy report by AIIMS docs panel

As it was an SDM inquest, the then director AIIMS, Dr MC Misra, constituted a three-member panel of forensic medicine experts that was headed by Dr Sudhir Gupta to perform the post-mortem. The entire autopsy procedure was videographed, as is the protocol in medico-legal cases.
Pushkar, then 51, was found dead inside a luxury suite of Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi on January 17, 2014.(PTI photo)
Pushkar, then 51, was found dead inside a luxury suite of Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi on January 17, 2014.(PTI photo)
Updated on Aug 19, 2021 04:47 AM IST
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ByAnonna Dutt, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

he post-mortem exam report of Sunanda Pushkar initially raised more questions than it answered with the preliminary assessment saying it was a ‘sudden unnatural death’, but it was never made clear what it meant. It remained inconclusive on the explanation even after two days of extension that the doctors had sought.

Pushkar, then 51, was found dead inside a luxury suite of Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi on January 17, 2014.

As it was an SDM inquest, the then director AIIMS, Dr MC Misra, constituted a three-member panel of forensic medicine experts that was headed by Dr Sudhir Gupta to perform the post-mortem. The entire autopsy procedure was videographed, as is the protocol in medico-legal cases.

Two days after Pushkar’s autopsy was conducted at AIIMS, the hospital submitted the preliminary report to the then sub-divisional magistrate, Alok Sharma, investigating her death, in a sealed envelope.

The report submitted appeared to say that Pushkar’s death was not due to natural causes but due to poisoning. Public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava relied on the post-mortem exam report to argue that it was not an accidental death but poisoning which could be administered orally or injected.

Asked about the attention that his report garnered at that time, Dr Gupta on Wednesday said, “After we submit a post-mortem report to the police, our job is done. Unless the court has some specific questions, there is no legal provision for forensics to give their opinion to the court.”

However, the doctors later also clarified that the autopsy report never mentioned it was a “homicide, and it was for the investigating agencies to ascertain what the manner of poisoning was and the substance used”.

“Whether the death is a murder or a suicide or an accident, it is always for the investigation agency to determine; forensic medicine experts are there to give out the possible causes that may help the investigators,” Dr Gupta said then.

Pushkar’s viscera samples (internal organs) were sent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory for further analysis to determine the kind of poison, as the AIIMS report did not mention any specific substance.

The 11-page FBI report found traces of an anti-anxiety drug, corroborating AIIMS findings. Besides traces of Alprax, the FBI lab also found an anesthetic drug ‘Lidocaine Gel’, used to relieve itching, burning and pain due to skin inflammation.

The conclusions of the post-mortem report came into limelight after Dr Gupta alleged that he was pressured to change the report to say that it was a natural death. He reportedly wrote to the then union health minister JP Nadda stating, “Dr Misra (AIIMS director) asked me to declare Sunanda Pushkar’s death as natural in the post-mortem report, which is contrary to the findings…”

When asked for a comment on his letter, Dr Gupta on Wednesday said, “These are all matters of the past.”

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Friday, December 03, 2021