Who killed Justice JS Verma?

Dec 17, 2013 | Pratirodh Bureau

When we talk about the Delhi rape and murder case which shocked the country and the world, we should not forget the great efforts and contribution made by Justice JS Verma, a former Chief Justice of India, who headed a judicial committee appointed by the Central government to submit a report, within 30 days, to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases.

The Committee submitted its report after 29 days, after considering 80,000 suggestions received by them during the period. On 3 February 2013, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee which provides for amendment of Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on laws related to sexual offences. According to Minister of Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar, 90 percent of the suggestions given by the Verma Committee Report were incorporated into the Ordinance.

Three months later, JS Verma was admitted to the Escorts hospital with some health problems. He was later shifted to Medanta, a multi-specialty hospital, on the ‘personal assurances by the head of the institute, Dr. Naresh Trehan. JS Verma, who was shifted to Medanta on 19th April, 2013, died on 22nd April, 2013. In a letter to Dr. Trehan, the family has questioned the death of Justice Verma. The letter says that “it is a bitter irony that someone who dedicated their existence to fighting for the right to life with dignity, enshrined in the constitution, was not accorded the same by your hospital… wonder whether the events that left us devastated occurred because you (Trehan) were not there personally, or if they are reflective of a greater institutional weakness.”

Death of Justice JS Verma is a big loss. The man, who always stood for justice needs justice now. People must be told the truth behind his death. Justice Verma’s daughter, Shubra Verma Bhatnagar, wrote a letter to Dr. Trehan few days after her father’s death. We are publishing here the text of this letter.- Pratirodh Bureau.

Here is the text of the letter—

Dr Trehan,

I write to you in anguish, after deep thought and reflection.

My father, Justice J S Verma, was undergoing treatment in Escorts when it was discovered that his liver was badly affected. We were told that Medanta, being a multi-specialty hospital, would have all the facilities to treat him. My father had asked me to speak to Mr. Yogesh Chandra to see the feasibility of shifting there. I was reassured when you called personally. You told me to bring him, since you would take care of everything. You claimed you knew him personally, and that he was precious to you. Dr. Arvind Bharadwaj, of Bharadwaj Hospital Noida, also spoke to Dr. Kasliwal. Dr. Bharadwaj was reassured that Dr. Kasliwal would be present at Medanta to look after my father. Without a second thought, we made arrangements to shift him the same day i.e. Friday, 19th April.

We did this despite having numerous other options available to us in both Delhi and Bombay, and despite caution being expressed to us by concerned parties at the highest levels of public life in India. We shifted him to Medanta because we trusted you, and trusted that your staff would treat him with the utmost and due degree of care that he deserved. Our family was vulnerable at this difficult time, and your words lulled us into trusting the quality of care being offered at Medanta.

Whilst the family attending upon him was arranged for, what we really expected was the best medical care and attention for the patient. Instead, we realized by evening that coordination was exceptionally poor. Each department was working in isolation without communication between treating physicians. Around 8pm Dr. Sood told us that the liver was no longer the main issue, but that a cardiologist was needed to take care of things in his absence. Dr. Kasliwal, being at his clinic in Defence Colony, was not available.

Whilst you saw him upon arrival and got the doctors to start the treatment, when I tried contacting you, I was told you had gone to Goa and would only be available on Monday. You will not understand the betrayal we felt on not being able to contact you. This is particularly given the pitiable coordination and communication between the physicians meant to be taking care of him, and the perceptible lack of enthusiasm to treat his condition. I brought my father to your hospital only because of your personal assurance to take care of him. Had we known you were not even going to be in town after he was admitted, we would not have shifted him from Escorts to Medanta. The family, close friends and many admirers of Justice Verma, at the highest levels of public and political life, believe your conduct in leaving town was in violation of the degree of due care required to be observed.

The same evening, after he suffered tachycardia and was given shocks, our friends went in to see him and were surprised to find the attending doctors planning to remove the support system. They lamely accepted nothing could be done, given he was 80 years old. Indeed, during several conversations it was repeatedly communicated to the family that the poor prognosis was a foregone conclusion by reason of his age!

This was utterly reprehensible. Age alone is irrelevant – as is accepted protocol in the best hospitals that you aspire to emulate. You claim to have known my father – you must have known he was extremely fit, energetic and healthy. He put people half his age to shame. The way doctors tried to manipulate his age shows stunning ignorance of enlightened practices that you and your hospital claim to hold dear. Indeed, your staff and hospital’s implicit claim was that 80 year olds do not have a right to life. That their families should accept they have lived a full life and so not ‘waste’ a doctor’s time. Only after a lot of concerns were raised was any resuscitation effort made. Even then, the resuscitation did not follow any ALS (Advanced Life Support) guidelines. These guidelines clearly mention chest compression as an integral part in managing resuscitation. Additionally on the evening of the 19th, even after repeated reminders, Dr. Kasliwal had not seen the patient.

It was only after my sister and brother-in-law, both doctors in UK, came on the morning of 20th April that there was some semblance of proper treatment and briefing. They found it unnerving that there was no zest in the doctors to treat my father.

We were also surprised and distressed to be informed that in ICU, my father was constipated. The treatment for hepatic encephalopathy requires purgation to clear any blood from the gut, and may require repeated enemas. These do not appear to have been given.
On a more personal level, I found your statement on Monday 22nd April especially unprofessional and insensitive. You said that though you met my father in various forums, you could not make out anything wrong with him because of his dark colour! It was apparent to me (even as a layman) that such crude and generalized comments about skin colour are medically, not just personally, inappropriate. Perhaps the comment indicates a deeper bias in your approach and treatment. Aside from the family, his friends and well-wishers across the Country were aghast and disgusted to learn of this.

Even after my father’s death your hospital violated its professional duties, and his rights as a patient. A media statement was immediately released, without consulting the family. This stampeded over my father’s right to confidentiality, and my family’s right to be consulted. Please take note and be in no doubt: any further violation of my father’s confidentiality will be met with swiftly, and to the fullest extent of the law.
This immediate press release after his death was farcical, but accurately reflects your and your institution’s general ethos: posturing in front of media and cameras. We specifically did not involve the media, or ask for anything from them, despite offers, because we wanted to leave Medanta to focus on patient care. We did not realize that it takes only TV crews and photo opportunities to keep you and your institution on its toes. The age of the patient, then, becomes irrelevant for you and your hospital. This fact is depressing and sickening.

I believe that he would have been personally disappointed with the due care provided to him and the callous attitude of your hospital. It is a bitter irony that someone who dedicated their existence to fighting for the right to life with dignity, enshrined in the constitution, was not accorded the same by your hospital. I wonder whether the events that left us devastated occurred because you were not there personally, or if they are reflective of a greater institutional weakness.

With the passing of my father, India’s most vulnerable citizens have been robbed one of their truest friends. It will never be possible to calculate the lost potential of a life that still had so much to contribute. Particularly to 60 crore women – 10% of the World. Medanta must appreciate the responsibility its bears.

We will not keep silent about our experiences at your hospital. We ask that you remember your primary duty as a doctor and as the Head of your Institution. Our opinion in this regard is emphatically not an isolated one. We hope that your conscience will help you to realize the impact this has had on the family and friends of Justice Verma, on the Country, and on those of its citizens most in need of help.

I write this because my father believed we should not shut our eyes to wrongdoings or incompetency. We should speak out, in the right manner and at the right forum, and try to improve things. At the very least, we may hope that others will not suffer as the result of repeated mistakes at Medanta.

Yours Sincerely,

Shubra Verma Bhatnagar
D/o Justice J S Verma
(former Chief Justice of India)