Bhubaneswar: Human rights activist Akhand has moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking its intervention into the custodial death of a Nigerian under-trial prisoner in Odisha. The human rights activist has alleged medical negligence and denial of legal aid to the Nigerian, besides disrespect to the body. He prayed to the NHRC to direct the Odisha government to pay Rs 5 lakh to the family of the deceased as compensation.
Forty-year-old Augustine Odikpo was arrested by Odisha police from Patna, February 11, 2019 in connection with a cybercrime case. He was lodged in the Puri jail. However, Odikpo fell ill and was admitted to the district hospital May 9 this year. He was later shifted to SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack where he died of skin diseases May 26.
Odikpo’s body was embalmed and kept in the mortuary for around a fortnight. Then the process of handing it over to his brother who lives in an old-age home in Delhi, was initiated.
The human rights activist, in his petition to the NHRC, alleged that Odikpo died due to medical negligence. The activist also said the Nigerian’s body was left in the mortuary for 13 days due to administrative apathy.
Akhand alleged that the Nigerian was not provided free legal aid, which an accused is entitled to. “He was admitted to Puri district hospital May 9 with minor skin infections. He was deprived of proper treatment at the hospital because of which his condition deteriorated and he died May 26 at SCB Medical College and Hospital,” the human rights activist said in the letter.
“Odikpo’s brother came to Cuttack and wrote a letter May 27, requesting the district administration to arrange for sending the body to the national capital as he could not afford it but his request is still pending,” the petition filed June 7 stated. Also, free legal services were not provided to the accused, in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, he said.
The petitioner also expressed doubts over whether the standard procedure of informing the State Human Rights Commission and the NHRC about the custodial death within 24 hours was followed in the case. The activist said that the government has all kinds of facilities to transport bodies. However, the Nigerian’s mortal remains were lying in the mortuary for 13 days, awaiting final rites, Akhand pointed out. He demanded that the case be probed and action taken against those found guilty.
Puri prison authorities, meanwhile, said the body was kept in the mortuary with due respect for around a fortnight. This is because there was no claimant. Also there are several formalities involved in the handing over of a foreign national’s body.
Cuttack district administration has sanctioned financial assistance from the Red Cross fund for transporting the body, Collector Bhabani Shankar Chayni said.
SCB Medical College and Hospital Administrative Officer, Abinash Rout, said that the post-mortem examination has been conducted in consultation with the superintendent of Puri jail and the report is awaited.