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Rights body urges immediate shifting of political prisoner to AIIMS, Delhi

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has expressed dismay at the authorities not complying with the Delhi high court’s October 3 order in the case of the Kashmiri leader, and undertrial currently lodged in Tihar jail,  Altaf Ahmad Shah, who has been diagnosed with cancer. 


THE People’s Union for Democratic Rights, an independent organisation committed to legally define civil liberties and democratic rights, has called for political undertrial prisoner Altaf Ahmad Shah to be shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (‘AIIMS’), Delhi immediately, in compliance with the Delhi High Court’s directions.

Shah, a Kashmiri separatist leader, has been lodged in Tihar Jail in Delhi since 2017 in an alleged terror funding case filed against him by the National Investigation Agency (‘NIA’). He is currently admitted at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital (‘RML Hospital’) in New Delhi, where he was diagnosed with cancer, its metastasis and other organ-related deterioration on September 30. He has been on ventilator support since October 2.

According to the PUDR statement released earlier today, since the hospital lacks specialised oncology care, Shah’s family approached the Delhi High Court, which had on October 3 ordered for him to be immediately shifted to AIIMS, Delhi for better treatment. However, till this day, that is, October 5, Shah has not been shifted to AIIMS Delhi, and as per the statement, he may be shifted to AIIMS, Jhajjar in Haryana, which is about 50 km from the RML Hospital.

The high court had, in its order, averred that “…the right to have adequate and suitable treatment is a part of the fundamental right as enshrined in [Article] 21 [of the Constitution]”, and directed that Shah be shifted to AIIMS Delhi after considering “the totality of the circumstances and in the interests of justice”, deputing the Jail Superintendent with the task.

Questions raised by PUDR

The press statement, signed by PUDR Secretaries Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya, raises four questions:

Firstly, it asks why the Delhi high court’s order has not been followed, and Shah has not been shifted to AIIMS Delhi yet.

Secondly, it asks why Shah’s family has yet to receive Shah’s completed medical file from the RML Hospital. It also notes with concern that NIA opposed Shah’s treatment at AIIMS Delhi on the ground that “there is no medical record available which can indicate that the patient is suffering from renal cancer and further the concerned doctors at RML hospital have not recommended the transfer of the  prisoner to any other hospital”.

Thirdly, it asks why there was an inordinate delay in admitting Shah to the RML Hospital, considering that he had been complaining of severe pain and fever for a number of months. It refers to Shah being initially taken to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital (‘DDU Hospital’), Delhi on August 29, where he was merely administered pain killers for 20 days. When he was taken there again, he was admitted into the intensive care unit, and the hospital referred him to the RML Hospital. However, he was instead taken back to Tihar, the statement notes with consternation. Only when he was eventually admitted to the RML Hospital did it become clear that he was suffering from cancer; even then, the matter was not addressed as the hospital lacks the requisite facilities.

Fourthly, it asks what kind of treatment Shah was administered at Tihar before being taken to the DDU Hospital in August, considering that he was suffering from cancer, which was only diagnosed last month.

The statement refers to an article written by Shah’s daughter Ruwa in June 2020 about her father’s ill-health, in spite of which the jail officials, the NIA and the judiciary did not address his deteriorating health. It also makes note of the Supreme Court affirming last week in the case of another undertrial political prisoner, journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, that medical treatment is a fundamental right of all undertrials.

PUDR concludes “that there is wilful abdication of responsibility, of denial and neglect.” It concludes with reiterating its demand for Shah to be shifted to AIIMS Delhi as per the high court’s order, as well as calls for the medical officials at Tihar to be investigated for criminal neglect. It further condemns the medical and investigating team for not giving Shah’s family full and proper medical information about Shah, and for denying them the right to know.

Click here to view PUDR’s full press statement.

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