Resident doctor made to taste food before Indrani Mukerjea ate

Indrani Mukerjea
The medical fraternity in Maharashtra is mulling to move the State Human Rights Commission over the reports that doctors at JJ hospital here were allegedly made to taste the food before serving it to Indrani Mukerjea, prime accused in Sheena Boramurder case, during her recent hospitalisation. According to Dr Lalit Kapoor, a medico-legal expert of the Association of Medical Consultants, the medical fraternity has taken a serious note of such practices, which it considers as "inhuman and insulting."
"It is very inhuman and insulting...such practices should be stopped not only with regard to doctors but no human being should be told to carry out such acts. In this regard, a complaint will be filed in a day or two with the State Human Rights Commission," Kapoor said. The issue came to light after a section of media reported about the "humiliating" practice the doctors allegedly underwent while Indrani was hospitalised at the state-run hospital for suspected drug overdose about a week back.
According to reports, before Indrani had her first morsel, a resident medical officer tasted the food. Indrani was then allowed to eat after a gap of 10 minutes, when there was no adverse reaction. Generally, food-tasters are appointed when heads of state are travelling, given the threat perception and the watertight security cover that has to be provided to them. 
Indrani and the two other accused -- her former husband Sanjeev Khanna and driver Shyamvar Rai -- were arrested in August-end on the charge of murdering her 24-year-old daughter Sheena in April 2012 and disposing of the body in a forest in Raigad district, about 84 kms from here. The case is now being investigated by the CBI. 
When asked about the response, JJ Hospital Dean Dr T P Lahane said he had three times in the past asked the government that the food tasting should be entrusted with Food and Drug Administration and it is not the job of doctors. 



Routine is reserved for inmates facing a serious threat to their lives; two examples - self-styled Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and murdered matka king Suresh Bhagat's wife.

A curious thing happened on Monday morning when Indrani Mukerjea was served solid food for the first time since she was admitted to JJ Hospital on October 2. Before she had her first morsel, a resident medical officer tasted the food. A posse of lady police constables posted in the ward Indrani was admitted to observed the RMO. Indrani was then allowed to eat after a gap of 10 minutes, when there was no adverse reaction. 

Clearly, the hospital was not taking any chances. And clearly, there is a serious threat to her life, which Mumbai police are not talking about. 

The decision to appoint a food taster ascertains that fear. Generally, food tasters are appointed when heads of state are travelling, given the threat perception and the watertight security cover that has to be provided to them. 

Indrani was admitted to the Critical Care Unit on Friday with a respiratory depression suspected to have been triggered due to a drug overdose. But there have been conflicting reports about the exact nature of the toxicity in her body. While preliminary test reports from Mahim's Hinduja Hospital revealed an extremely high content of benzodiazepine (an anti-anxiety drug) in the urine toxic profile, the claim was negated in the confirmatory tests carried out at the Kalina's Forensic Science Laboratory. 

The Dean of JJ Hospital, Dr TP Lahane said that the RMO tasted the food on instructions from the authorities at Byculla jail where Indrani has been lodged as an undertrial in the Sheena Bora murder case. "We started her on solid food from Monday. Prior to that she was only given water. We were asked to check on the safety of the food by the jail authorities," Lahane said. He clammed up when Mirror pressed him for details. 

Mukerjea was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday evening amidst high security after she was evaluated to be medically fit. A detailed medical report of the diagnosis and treatment has been sent to the Central Bureau of Investigation. 

A senior doctor told Mirror that although many accused are routinely admitted to JJ Hospital for treatment, there hasn't been any case when the food had to be tasted before being served to the accused. The doctor said that Indrani was served food cooked in the hospital just like all other patients. 

Though it may be rare, but checking food served to an accused is not entirely unheard of. The only difference between Indrani's case and that of two prisoners that former jailor, Surendra Kumar, recalls is that of scale. JJ had appointed food tasters for Pragya Thakur who is accused of the Malegaon blasts of 2006 and has a very high threat perception; and Jaya, wife of 'Matka King' Suresh Bhagat, who was convicted of her husband's murder in 2013 and who too has to be given foolproof security as there was a threat to her life, considering the amount of money and the number of people involved in the scam before her husband's murder. A similar treatment for Indrani thus proves that she is a very high profile inmate of the Byculla women's jail, and perhaps also faces a very serious threat to her life. 

Since Mukerjea was admitted on Friday, the hospital had turned into a fortress. A senior doctor said that it was made mandatory for them to enter their name and sign a muster kept outside the CCU, a practice never before seen or heard in the ward. "All doctors entering and exiting the CCU were made to sign the muster as the hospital authorities wanted to keep a close eye on people going anywhere close to Indrani," he said, adding that names of patient's relatives were called out before they could enter the ward. 

Ever since Indrani was wheeled into the hospital with suspected drug overdose, speculation has been rife that there was a threat to her life. Also, the conflicting toxicology reports from Hinduja and FSL point to a pattern - if Mukerjea had managed to hoard her medicines and gulped them down in bulk to attempt suicide, the jail doctor would have been in trouble as (s)he is responsible to oversee the patient while (s)he swallows the medicine in jail. A negative report would have saved the jail authorities the blushes. 

A senior doctor that Mirror spoke to stood by Hinduja Hospital's report. "She was clearly responding to the line of treatment for drug overdose. As the toxins were flushed out, she regained consciousness," he said, adding that Hinduja Hospital has an accredited laboratory and any doctor would consider the hospital's reports more accurate than FSL's - which lacks good equipment as well as staff. 

Mukerjea was admitted under the unit of pulmonologist Dr P Shyamsunder Tampi. He r solid food routine was started off with bread and milk in the morning and daal, rice and vegetables for lunch and dinner.


Is an alleged murderer's life more important than a doctor's?

Facebook bristles with angry comments. Indian Medical Association says JJ only hospital where doctors have to face this. Association of Medical Consultants will move Human Rights Commission.

Is a doctor's life less precious than that of a murder accused? Are doctors guinea pigs? Why should doctors taste a patient's food to ensure it is not poisoned? 

These were just some of the questions that doctors and citizens were asking on Wednesday. The trigger for the outrage was Mumbai Mirror's report in the morning about resident medical officers being forced to taste Indrani Mukerjea's food when she was admitted to JJ Hospital. 

While some doctors took to the social media to express their shock at the incident, a senior doctor has decided to approach the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission. 

Dr Lalit Kapoor, a medico legal expert attached to the Association of Medical Consultants said that it was extremely humiliating for the entire medical fraternity. 

"Is it the doctor's duty to sample food for the safety of prisoners," asked Kapoor, adding that he is already in the process of drafting a complaint to the human rights commission. 

"Doctors at JJ Hospital were simply made guinea pigs. It is an extremely disturbing trend," he said. 

Kapoor said that there was a debate within the medical fraternity a few years ago when resident doctors had to sample the food given to APJ Abdul Kalam during one of his visits to Mumbai. 

"That debate died down a few days later but this won't mainly because we are talking about a murder accused here," he said. 

The Dean of JJ Hospital, Dr TP Lahane expressed helplessness. "We have to ensure the safety of those coming in to the hospital. We have no other choice," he said. 

"I agree that it is not a doctor's job to sample food. In other cities, food inspectors are appointed to do this job. I have discussed this with government authorities earlier as well," he added. 

Mumbai Mirror on Wednesday reported about how doctors were made to sample the food of Mukerjea while she was admitted in the JJ hospital with a suspected drug overdose. While the hospital was turned into a fortress for Indrani, sampling of food ascertained a possible threat to her life. 

Doctors from across the country expressed outrage on social media about how it was 'shameful' and 'insulting' for the entire fraternity. "Murder accused became more important than the life of a doctor," said a doctor from Mandya in Karnataka. Another doctor from Latur said, "Ridiculous! Maybe should ask health minister or health secretary to test that first... we doctors are far less imp than them" (sic). 

Indian Medical Association's state president Dr Jayesh Lele said that such complaints of doctors being made guinea pigs have come from JJ Hospital before. 

"This hospital gets prisoners and doctors here are often involved in VIP visits," said Lele, adding that if the authorities are so worried about the life of a high profile accused, they should oversee the process of making the food in the kitchen. 

"Doctors are there to treat patients. They are not supposed to test food and check if it is laced with poison to save lives," said Lele. In one of the comments on the social media group, a doctor said that this has been happening for a long time. 

"This is done especially for visiting dignitaries when an official food taster from JJ Hospital is deployed. They (the poor RMO) had to stay hungry for hours, 'taste' the VIP's food and then leave," a doctor told Mirror.

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