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Thursday 4 April 2013

Before autopsy report, CM delivers verdict

Before autopsy report, CM delivers verdict

Mamata Banerjee
Calcutta, April 3: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today said SFI leader Sudipto Gupta died after "hitting a lamp-post", choosing to make such an assertion in public even before the post-mortem process was completed.
The verdict by the chief minister, who also holds the home portfolio, came in the middle of an uproar over alleged police excesses and the inability of the law-enforcers to ensure the security of a young man in their custody.
Mamata had sought to defuse the controversy triggered by the death by making an unscheduled stop at SSKM Hospital this morning while on her way to Writers' Buildings. She headed towards the police morgue, where Sudipto's body was kept for post-mortem, but turned back in the face of anti-government slogans from SFI supporters.
On her way out, the chief minister spoke to reporters and started out on a sympathetic note. "Je kono mrityu-i durbhagyajanak… (Any death is unfortunate)."
"Post-e aghat legei mrityu hoyechhe (he died after hitting a lamp-post)," she added, echoing the police version that Sudipto was standing on the footboard of a bus that was carrying arrested SFI supporters to Presidency jail and his head struck a lamp-post when the bus took a sharp turn.
But SFI supporters had alleged that police personnel inside the bus had pushed the youth out and his head had hit a lamp-post. Tanushree Mondal, an SFI activist, had said she had seen a policeman hitting Sudipto on his head with a lathi even after he fell.
The Left Front has called a 12-hour general strike in Tollygunge, Dhakuria and Garia on Thursday from 6am. Public and private transport are exempt.
Train parallel
The chief minister drew a parallel with accidents not too unfamiliar in crowded trains.
"Amader- anek kormi train-e kore aste giye lamp-post e aghat lege mara gechhe.… Tai ami sabaike safely train-e jatayat korte boli (Even many of our party activists have died on being hit by lamp-posts. So I have always advised people to travel safely on trains)," Mamata said before leaving SSKM.
Metallic factor
The chief minister's assertion in haste stood out against the preliminary findings of the post-mortem that did not mention a key detail hinted at by SSKM Hospital yesterday.
Yesterday evening, Tamal Kanti Ghosh, medical superintendent of the state-run SSKM, had said that "apparently, the head injury was caused after he hit a heavy metallic object".
Today evening, sources said the preliminary findings mentioned that Sudipto's head had hit a "heavy blunt object" but did not go into the nature of the object. The sources, however, cautioned that the preliminary findings should not be confused with the final post-mortem report that had not been drawn up yet.
The incomplete status of the medical as well as forensic investigations raises the question how the government and the police can conclude and make public the cause of the death.
According to a senior police officer, only forensic experts can confirm the nature of the object.
"The doctors have collected samples from his wounds. Now we will have to collect samples from the lamp-post and see if they match. The process is not yet complete," a forensic official said.
If the object is found to be metallic, the government is expected to hold it up as evidence that partly matches the police version that Sudipto's head hit a lamp-post. But the question will still remain how the 23-year-old's head came in contact with the post — whether it happened accidentally or he was pushed.
Driver held
The police have so far arrested only bus driver Raja Das — on the charge of rash and negligent driving — who was released on bail.
"The arrest of the bus driver is in line with the official stand as the government wants to project the death of Sudipto as an accident caused by rash and negligent driving," said a police officer.
On the basis of an SFI leader's complaint against an unnamed officer, the police have registered a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Since two home-guards were present there — one is in a private hospital with injuries after being beaten by the activists yesterday — they could be named in the FIR, sources said.
But the government has not held anyone to account till late tonight for failing to ensure the security of a person under police custody — Sudipto was under the charge of the police when he suffered the fatal injury.
The rulebook suggests that the safety of a person arrested by Calcutta police lies with the police commissioner who has not yet commented in public on the death.
SFI activists had claimed "Sanjay Sen from Kasba police station" was responsible for dealing the fatal blow to Sudipto. But officials said they could not find anyone by that name in Kasba police station and no one from the police station had been deployed at Esplanade on Tuesday.
The preliminary findings of the post-mortem — conducted by B.N. Kahali and videographed as the death took place in police custody — mention injuries other than that caused by a heavy object.
A government source said: "There is an injury mark behind the right ear lobe, which cannot be linked to any heavy blunt object. Besides, there are injury marks on his eyebrows…. There are wounds on his ribs and the nature suggests that Sudipto might have fallen on the rough and hard surface" .
According to him, Sudipto died because of a grievous impact in the occipital region of the right side of the head, which resulted in three gaping injuries in the posterior part of the brain while his eyes had also popped out.
Questions arise on what caused such an intense impact on the skull as the police had said the bus was slowing down to stop just ahead of the main gate leading to Presidency jail.
A veteran officer said a "significant impact" could not be ruled out if the victim had been pushed off the bus with a certain thrust and his head had crashed against a lamp-post.
Another question related to how Sudipto suffered injuries on his right side. "If a person is hanging from the footboard, chances are the left side of his face will be more vulnerable," the officer said.
But he added that injury on the right side was possible if a significant part of the victim's upper portion was outside the bus. In that case, the person might have suffered fractures or serious injuries on the right shoulder and arm. In the absence of a detailed official briefing, it is not clear yet if Sudipto suffered such injuries.

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