Post-mortem reports of four people who died at Delhi’s Asha Kiran home for the mentally challenged suggest that they died of “food poisoning” caused by “spurious food material”, said an expert. The four reports accessed by The Sunday Express are of inmates who died over a period of three months — one each in November and December last year and two this January. Thirty-nine inmates have died at the home in the last 13 months, including six in January alone. The reports reveal the presence of “froth” mixed with “semi-digested food material” present over the tracheal lumen or the windpipe. The four inmates have been described in the reports as “thin built” and “poorly nourished”. Further, the post-mortem examination revealed that some body parts showed “congestion”, which experts attributed to “poisoning of food”.
While officials at Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, which conducted the autopsies, refused to comment, Dr Sudhir Gupta, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at AIIMS, said the reports are “suggestive of poisoning with food due to spurious food material, along with bacterial food poisoning” and that the cause of death requires “huge investigation”. The autopsy reports accessed by The Sunday Express are of Javed, 18, who died on November 1, 2016 ; Dulari, 41, who died December 20; Tanya, 20, who died on January 29 this year; and Ganga, 21, who died on January 17.
Javed’s report, for instance, reads: “Head: Brain parenchyma was congested; Neck: The larynx, pharynx and tracheal mucosa were congested. White coloured froth mixed with yellow coloured semi digested food material present near the epiglottic fold and in the upper tracheal wall at places; Chest: Lungs were congested… on cut section, blood tinged froth mixed with yellow coloured fluid oozes out; Abdomen: Liver was congested… spleen congested… mucosa of the stomach was congested…both kidneys were congested”.
“It is clear from the findings of the report that the deceased were ill nourished. They were not suffering from any disease. The death, in all the cases, based on the circumstantial evidence, is unexplained. However, the post-mortem report has shown congestion and presence of froth. These are indicative of death due to bacterial food poisoning as well as food material being spurious and deleterious to health,” Gupta told The Sunday Express.
The report also states that “opinion regarding cause of death will be given after receipt of analysis report of specimen preserved”. Sources said that “subsequent opinion” will be submitted after at least two months. Experts say bacterial food poisoning can typically be attributed to “poor personal hygiene, improper cleaning of storage and preparation areas and unclean utensils”, causing contamination of raw and cooked food. “Food poisoning bacteria are often present in food. There is presence of yellowish-brown semi-digested food material mixed with froth present all over the upper side of the tracheal lumen. This could be the dal served at the home. The present case requires huge investigation to keep a check on such deaths,” Gupta said.
Government sources said the conditions in Asha Kiran – which is run by the Delhi government’s Department of Social Welfare – are being viewed as an “extremely serious matter”. They said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had asked the chief secretary to “remove the deficiencies” in the home and submit a report by February 13. Senior police officials said they would conduct an inquiry only if they found foul play or received a criminal complaint from the families of the victims. Joint Commissioner of Police (northern range) Sanjay Singh said, “The probe into these deaths is being conducted by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. We will assist them by collecting the post-mortem report and sending it to the executive magistrate. The final report will come after the SDM concludes the inquiry.”
Another police officer who claims to have visited the home several times said the place was “full of dirt” and “filled with stench”. “We asked welfare officials and employees of the home to maintain hygiene, but nothing changed,” he said. Earlier this month, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal had led a surprise inspection of the home and observed that the premises had “dirty toilets, nude inmates and mentally challenged persons crawling on the floor”. On Saturday, Maliwal told The Sunday Express that the home did not have a designated cook. “It was the house aunty (attendant) who cooked. The job of the house aunty is to take care of the women and assist them in going to the toilet, not cook. In one dormitory, there was one house aunty for 153 inmates.”