Exhumation holds key to mysterious Versova deaths

Jul 28, 2012, 07:32 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Till 1999, coroner was vested with power to examine cases, decide whether to disinter bodies for probe purposes; power now rests with top cops but experts feel independent agency is necessary

The mystery behind the death of the Chougle siblings is likely to remain a mystery, if the bodies aren’t exhumed.

Till 1999, there was a specialised authority — the coroner — who would closely examine cases and take decisions about the exhumation. However, the powers now rest with the additional or deputy police commissioners.

In the case of Rameez and Rehab’s deaths, this means loss of crucial evidence, said city- based forensic experts yesterday. Dr Shailesh Mohite, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine at Nair Medical College, said, “It is a fact that when the coroner inquest system existed, the coroner had the power to order exhumation where the identity of the deceased was unknown, or the cause of death was uncertain. However, after the inquest system was abolished, such powers were transferred to the assistant commissioners of police, who, incidentally, seldom exercise them.” She added, “Once the body is disposed of by means other than burial, the cause of death may go undetected, and in case of unnatural deaths, the accused can go scot-free. There needs to be an independent body with coroner’s powers to handle suspicious cases.” Experts feel that since an autopsy was not conducted on Rameez’s body, the case is fit for exhumation.

Dr G V Uppe, former police surgeon, said, “For suspicious cases, the police can disinter the body without forming a medical committee. The ACP can approach the tehsildar and obtain an order. The problem is that no ACP wants to utilise this power.”

MiD DAY dispatched a list of three questions to Mumbai police spokesperson DCP Nissar Tamboli, which he then forwarded to officers probing the case. This is the response we received:

Unanswered questions
Q: Will the police exhume Rameez’s body, now that it has been established his sister Rehab died an unnatural death?
A: We haven’t yet decided.
Q: Why is the ACP/DCP not invoking the powers given to him under the Coroner’s Act 1999 to certify cause of death?
A: No response
Q: Do you agree that delay in exhumation could lead to loss of evidence, which in turn may weaken the case during trial?
A: No response

Another blunder?
Senior doctors and forensic experts expressed surprise that cops had written to the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) asking the body to take action against Dr Abdullah Momin, who certified Rameez’s death as natural. Momin holds a BHMS degree, and only doctors who hold the MBBS degree are registered with MMC. Those who hold the BHMS degree are registered with the Maharashtra Homeopathic Council.

Exhumations in the past
>> July 2012

The police exhumed a foetus that had been buried near Somaiya College, after it was discovered that it had been conceived out of wedlock, following which the mother opted for abortion at a private clinic and buried the foetus.

>> September 2007
Dr Niyaz Ansari (48) from Bhiwandi was arrested by the police for allegedly murdering his wife Firoza Khan (38). Dr Ansari had allegedly signed the death certificate himself, stating that Firoza had died after a heart attack. He thereafter buried her body in the local graveyard. However the body was exhumed and it was later confirmed that Firoza had been murdered. 

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