Jatinder Kaur Tur
On 15 April, in a case before the Delhi High Court for an independent investigation into the death of the farmer Navreet Singh, the Delhi Police submitted a medical report on his X-ray plates that is inconsistent with his post-mortem report. In compliance with the high court’s previous order, the Delhi government had constituted a medical board, comprised of three senior doctors from the Maulana Azad Medical College, to examine the X-ray plates of Navreet’s injuries and submit a report. The MAMC medical board’s opinion submitted on 5 April noted that the X-rays showed “fractures of the skull and facial bones,” and that there was “no metallic radio-opacity suggestive of foreign body.” In effect, the report supported the Delhi Police’s narrative that Navreet had not been shot, and died by a road accident. But these findings are inconsistent with Navreet’s post-mortem report, and conspicuous by their omissions.
Two senior government doctors, with decades of experience in government institutes, studied both documents and spoke to us—one on the record and the other off the record and willing to speak to a court or a government investigation, if required. The doctors said that the post-mortem described wounds that clearly revealed bullet injuries, and that claims in the medical report were false or misleading. They said that Navreet’s injuries were gunshot wounds and that the medical board’s X-ray report had ignored significant details mentioned in the post-mortem. The doctors also said that Navreet’s details were written on the X-ray plates with a white marker, noting that this was a significant deviation from standard practice—a fact acknowledged in the medical report as well.
“The injuries shown in the post-mortem and their nature, size, margins and site cannot be termed to have been caused by an accidental fall from a moving tractor,” Dr Pyare Lal Garg, a former professor of surgery, who was the dean at the faculty of medical sciences in Chandigarh’s Panjab University, said. Garg added that the injuries would have been caused by a “same size weapon.” He also noted that the post-mortem report has “no mention of the fracture of the skull bones and facial bones” as recorded in the X-ray report. He explained that the post-mortem report must “record any visible or palpable fracture, and if not, then one has to record that same shall be opined after X-ray,” which the post-mortem report does not reflect.
The second doctor, who served in a leading government medical institute until his retirement, spoke on the condition of anonymity, but agreed to testify before a court if necessary. “The kind of wounds mentioned in the post-mortem report of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh can only be firearm or gunshot wounds with no other explanation or possibility,” he said. “No metallic body was found inside since the bullet left the head.”
Navreet, a 25-year-old farmer from Rampur, in Uttar Pradesh, died on 26 January, while participating in the farmers’ tractor rally held in Delhi that day. As The Caravan reported after his death, eyewitnesses to the incident said that Delhi Police officials shot him outside the Andhra Education Society, in central Delhi, and this caused his tractor to overturn. The post-mortem report revealed injuries that, according to multiple forensic experts, could only be caused by bullets. The post-mortem report did not specify bullet wounds, and described the cause of death as “a result of antemortem head injury.” The media widely reported the police narrative, and that the post-mortem did not specify bullet wounds, but did not list the injuries described in the report. According to forensic experts in India and the United Kingdom—interviewed by The Caravan and The Guardian, respectively—who studied the report and the ante-mortem head injuries listed in it, these injuries were consistent with gunshot wounds.
Navreet’s grandfather, Hardeep Singh Dibdiba, and his uncle, Inderjit Singh, were present at the District Hospital in Rampur when the post-mortem was conducted, and said that the doctors conducting the examination admitted to them that the injuries were caused by bullet wounds. The Delhi Police, however, maintain that Navreet died by accident, as he crashed into a police barricade while driving his tractor at a high speed.
In early February, Dibdiba had approached the Delhi High Court seeking an independent probe into his grandson’s death. He sought a time-bound investigation as well as directions from the court for the authorities to provide his family with copies of the X-rays of the body and the video recording of the post-mortem, all of which were conducted in Rampur. On 4 March, the Delhi High Court judge Yogesh Khanna directed the Uttar Pradesh Police and the chief medical officer of the Rampur District Hospital to provide Navreet’s original X-ray plate and post-mortem video to the Delhi Police.
After the court’s order, Dibdiba had arrived at the Singhu border along with his son, Vikramjit Singh, and his nephew Inderjit, who had seen the original X-ray on 27 January, when it was conducted. Dibdiba told me at the time that “three members from the family will see the original X-ray plate and the video recording, including my nephew—who was present in the X-ray room when the X-ray was being conducted—my son and myself.” He added, “My nephew will ascertain or verify if it is the same X-ray plate that he saw earlier.” According to Inderjit, Dibdiba said, the original X-ray showed a “three-inch long bullet trajectory” that clearly depicted the entry and the exit points of the bullet. But ultimately, neither Dibdiba nor any other members of his family were given an opportunity to see the X-ray plates.
On 17 March, the next date of hearing, Vrinda Grover, the lawyer representing Dibdiba, informed the court that the X-ray plate had been submitted to the Delhi Police. Grover then asked for a medical board to be constituted at the MAMC to review the X-ray and submit a report on it. She declined to comment on the report submitted by the medical board, apart from stating, “As I said before the high court, we will be showing the post-mortem report and video, and X-ray report to forensic and medical experts.” Dibdiba emphasised that he wanted to see it to confirm its authenticity before the medical board reviewed it.
“We had asked for the X-ray but that has not been shown to us despite that being our main demand and the very reason for approaching the court,” Dibdiba told me. He said that the family wanted to see the X-ray plate to ensure that it was the same one that had been shown to them in Rampur on 27 January. “How do we know which X-ray is it that they have based their report upon?” he asked. Dibdiba maintained that as Navreet’s grandfather, he had every right to see the evidence relied upon by the Delhi Police to argue that his grandson had died by accident. “Why hide the X-ray from us?” Dibdiba asked.
The Delhi High Court had directed for the medical board to be constituted from the forensic medicine and radiology departments of MAMC at Grover’s request. The Delhi government issued an order complying with the high court on 24 March. The medical board had three doctors—Dr Anil Aggarwal, a director-professor in the department of forensic medicine, who was the chairman, and Dr Gaurav Pradhan and Dr Sapna Singh, from MAMC’s radiology department.
On 15 April, a medical board submitted its report on Navreet Singh’s X-ray. Among its observations, the board noted, ““No definitive opinion regarding foul play can be given based on medical evidence provided.”
In its “Review Opinion Report,” the board noted that it had received two X-rays bearing numbers “664/27.1.202” and “665/27.1.21.” Under a section titled “Opinion/Comments of this Medical Board,” the doctors wrote, “X-rays skull AP and oblique views show fractures of the skull and facial bones. There is no metallic radio-opacity suggestive of foreign body.” The report further noted, “No definitive opinion regarding foul play can be given based on medical evidence provided. No further opinion regarding the case can be provided.” Evidently, the medical board’s report declined to rule out the possibility of foul play. It is also pertinent to note that Navreet’s post-mortem did not record any fracture of the skull or facial bones.
According to the post-mortem report, Navreet died as “a result of antemortem head injury.” The post-mortem report listed six ante-mortem injuries. Among others, these included a lacerated wound “of size 2cm x 1cm” with “inverted and bone deep” margins over the left side of his chin; and another lacerated wound “of size 6×3 cm” over the right ear with “irregular and everted” margins and “ear ossicles and brain matter coming out.”
Navreet Singh’s post-mortem report listed his cause of death as “a result of antemortem head injury.” It did not mention any bullet injuries, but listed antemortem injuries that could forensic experts said could only be explained as gunshot wounds.
The two doctors were unequivocal in their assertion that these injuries were caused by gunshots. “Margins shall be everted only when something has forced out through brain and ear from inside,” Garg explained, describing the injury over the right ear as an “exit wound.” He said that the “same size” wounds on the chin and the eyebrow, “with similar inverted margins and being bone deep depict that something of same size has pierced in with force.”
Similarly, the second doctor said, “One look and any doctor in any part of the world would tell you that two inverted wounds and two everted with larger diameter—possible exit of the bullet, as compared to the inverted wounds, which possibly mark the entry of the bullet—are not possible in a road accident or even an assault with a spear, and are only consistent with firearm injuries.” He added, “The question that everybody should pose to this board is whether these injuries are consistent with that of firearm.” The second doctor said that Navreet’s family should “definitely seek a re-assessment since the board failed to talk about the everted wounds, which are made when a foreign body leaves the skull. Moreover, no metallic body was detected inside the skull.”
Garg explained the medical board’s findings that there was “no metallic radio-opacity suggestive of foreign body.” He said, “Metallic radio opacity is any opacity in the film showing presence of metal at the time of x-ray—not only bullet, anything metallic present inside shall be depicted by radio opacity. However, the metallic piece or the bullet, if it goes out, it does not show any metallic opacity.” Therefore, the medical report only demonstrated that there was no bullet lodged in Navreet’s head at the time of the X-ray, but not that he had never been shot.
The second doctor further observed, “The board speaks about skull and facial bones fracture in a very crude and unprofessional way, not even bothering to specify the sides.” He added, “An injury that penetrates the ear ossicles and the brain making two entry and two exit wounds, which have not been mentioned by the board, are bound to cause bone fractures—something that has been overlooked by the board. At least the wound on chin, mentioned by the Rampur postmortem report, could have been mentioned on the left side of the mandible on X-rays.”
He also made a pertinent observation about the authenticity of the X-rays themselves. The medical report noted that the identification numbers on the X-rays were “written on them with white marker.” According to the second doctor, this was a significant deviation from the standard practice. “Above all, the X-rays nowadays bear radiopaque imprint of metallic name of the patient/number to avoid confusion regarding the patient or swapping of X-rays,” he said. “Putting a name or serial number with white marker definitely points to possibility of a foul play. The board has definitely put its observation that name/numbers were written with white marker, which is an obsolete practice.”
The X-ray report submitted by the board of doctors at the Maulana Azad Medical College noted that the identification details were written by a white marker after the X-ray was taken. The board stated, “The usual practice is to have the numbers incorporated in the X-ray image by fixing radiopaque numbers over the film.”
The medical board made a note of this deviation as well. In its report, after noting that the identification details of the X-ray were written with a white marker, the board stated, “The above markings on X-ray plates have been made after the X-rays have been taken.” The board added, “The usual practice is to have the numbers incorporated in the X-ray image by fixing radiopaque numbers over the film.” Similarly, Garg told me, “Name and number priming on the X-ray itself while taking skiagram is standard practice, but if written with marker after X-ray, then it is questionable.”
These questions raised by the doctors echo Dibdiba’s concerns about the authenticity of the X-ray plates. “We do not accept the board’s findings,” Dibdiba said. “Until we are not shown the X-ray and we confirm that it is the same X-ray we saw, only after that should a panel conduct an examination—then we will accept it.” He added, “From the very beginning, our primary demand has been that we should see the X-ray, because we had a doubt that X-ray would be swapped. And that’s exactly what we think has happened here—that the doctors have not examined Navreet’s X-ray.”
“We think its manipulated,” Dibdiba continued. “The government does not want the truth to come out.” He said that the family did not have a plan as yet on how to proceed. The case is next listed for hearing on 26 July.
courtesy The Caravan