Altaf Ahmad Shah, a political undertrial prisoner lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail since 2017, is currently battling for his life in Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital (RML), Delhi. His cancer diagnosis, its metastasis and other organ related deterioration was done on September 30, in the same hospital. Since October 2, Mr Shah has been on a ventilator in RML. The hospital lacks specialized oncology facilities so the family had approached the Delhi High Court which had ordered that Mr Shah be immediately shifted to AIIMS (Delhi) for better treatment. The order was passed on October 3, 2022. Till now, October 5, Mr Shah continues to remain in RML and there is talk of him being possibly shifted to AIIMS Jhajjhar (Haryana), which is a considerable distance from RML.
Given the seriousness of the condition, PUDR raises a few pertinent questions in this regard:
Why has the order of the Delhi High Court not been adhered to and why has Mr Shah not been shifted to AIIMS (Delhi) as recommended by the High Court?
Why has the family not received the completed medical file from RML till now? It is shocking to note that the NIA made that the reason for opposing Mr Shah’s treatment in AIIMS (Delhi): that “there is no medical record available which can indicate that the patient is suffering from Renal cancer and further the concerned doctors at RML hospital have not recommended the transfer of the prisoner to any other hospital”.
What was the reason for the delay in admitting Mr Shah to RML hospital, given that he had been complaining of severe pain and fever for some months? He was taken to DDU hospital on August 29, but was administered pain killers for the next twenty days. When he was taken again, he was admitted to the ICU, and the hospital referred him to RML. Astonishingly, he was taken back to Tihar. When he was finally admitted to RML, two things became clear: that Mr Shah was suffering from a very serious cancerous condition and that even then, the matter was not addressed as RML lacks facilities.
What kind of treatment was Mr Shah given at Tihar before being taken to DDU? Cancer doesn’t happen overnight, and Mr Shah’s condition was finally detected only after his admission to RML hospital in the third week of September. What kind of treatment was he given till then?
In May 2020, Ruwa Shah had written an article stating that her father was very unwell. There was enough time for the jail officials, for the investigating agency and for the NIA court to address the issue of Mr Shah’s deteriorating condition.
The HC in its October 3 order while taking into account the NIA’s objections ruled that “…the right to have adequate and suitable treatment is a part of the fundamental right as enshrined in Art 21” and that after considering “the totality of the circumstances and in the interests of justice” Mr Shah be shifted to AIIMS. It deputed the Jail Superintendent with the task. Most recently, on September 28, 2022, in the case of Gautam Navlakha, the Supreme Court stated clearly that medical treatment is a fundamental right of all undertrials. In Mr Shah’s case, it is clear that there is wilful abdication of responsibility, of denial and neglect.
PUDR demands that the Delhi High Court order be adhered to immediately and that Mr Shah be taken to AIIMS Delhi. PUDR also demands that the medical officials in Tihar be investigated for criminal neglect. PUDR condemns the medical and investigating team for not giving the family the full and proper medical information, and for denying them the right to know.
Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya