Mumbai Stampede: Grieving families face a long wait as officials insist on 22 autopsies

Sep 30, 2017, 16:08 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Bodies could have been handed over to the families the same day if a sample post-mortem had been conducted; instead, cops and railway authorities demanded separate autopsies

The Elphinstone Road stampede, which claimed 22 lives, has once again opened up the debate on the protocol for post-mortems in cases of mass casualties. As per the norms under the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), in cases where the cause of death is evident, a sample post-mortem should suffice for all the bodies. However, in this case, the police and railway officials demanded autopsies for each of the 22 victims.

Grieving relatives waited all day at KEM Hospital, but not even half the bodies were handed over last evening. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Grieving relatives waited all day at KEM Hospital, but not even half the bodies were handed over last evening. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Long wait for kin
Because of this, only seven bodies had been handed over to the families by 6.30 pm.

A mortuary attendant at KEM said, "We are hoping that till late night another six to seven bodies will be released. Two bodies remain unidentified."

The civic health department also roped in teams from the BYL Nair and LTMG hospitals, but they were sent back as KEM's forensic team could manage themselves.

Bhavesh Patel, who is a part of the high court-appointed committee to study railway accidents, said, "It is very evident that the death was due to the stampede. There was no reason for conducting post-mortem, which achieves nothing except to make the already traumatised relatives go through a long wait for the body."

He added, "I will raise my concern during our Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Monitoring Committee meeting, along with stake holders of railways. In cases of mass casualty, the NDRF rules should be in practice. If the NDRF team is called in for rescue operations, then why weren't the NDRF norms followed?"

Other side
Dr Avinash Supe, dean of KEM hospital and director of medical education, said, "We were asked by the police and railway officials to conduct post-mortem for each victim. They said there will be a high-level probe on the incident by the railway safety commissioner and it is important to ascertain the exact cause of death, as there were rumours about short circuit, bridge collapse, etc, that led to the stampede."


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Cause of death
"We have found injuries to the chest and abdomen. A few died due to suffocation, but the exact details of each of the dead will be given by our department of forensic medicine to the police," said Dr Avinash Supe, dean of KEM hospital. Of the 39 injured, two patients are critical, he added.

ID numbers on forehead
Markers were used to number the dead bodies on their forehead, an act that has not gone down well with the forensic surgeons. "The dead need to be respected and the usual practice is to tie an identification tag to the hand. Numbering is never done on the forehead, and that too with a marker," said a forensic expert. Police surgeon Dr S M Patil said, "It seems that some new recruit might have done this."

12
Death toll that qualifies a mishap as a disaster

2
Number of bodies yet to be identified

7
Number of bodies handed over to kin by 6.30 pm

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