The police and a racket

Published : May 09, 2003 00:00 IST

THE Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Additional Director-General of Police A.A. Siddiqui, set up to probe the organ trade scandal in Punjab, submitted a confidential report to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in April indicting two Deputy Inspectors-General of Police, at least two Senior Superintendents of Police, three Deputy Superintendents of Police and an equal number of Inspectors for their alleged support to doctors engaged in the trade.

Earlier, the SIT had blown the lid open on arguably the most disgraceful of India's kidney trade scandals. Doctors based at the Kakkar Hospital in Amritsar were found to have colluded with brokers who bought kidneys from poor workers for small sums of money. Many donors never received their promised payments; several died because of poor post-operative care. Criminal cases were filed subsequently against doctors accused of involvement in the trade and soon the first trials commenced. Doctors and secondary staff have been charged with various offences, ranging from forgery and fraud to homicide.

Siddiqui's report suggests that the trade was carried on partly because of the senior police officials' relationship with Dr. Praveen Sareen, the head of the Kakkar Hospital. The SIT was set up after Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, a young Superintendent of Police who first began investigating complaints about the racket, was shunted out of office. Pratap Singh was punished for having enforced the law in defiance of the instructions of his superior, Inspector-General of Police Rajan Gupta. Rajan Gupta, the SIT report suggests, acted because of his close personal relationship with Sareen, who had sponsored his foreign travel.

Just what relationship the other policemen had with Sareen is still not clear. Informed sources told Frontline that while some of the police officers were implicated only for supervisory lapses, others were found to have made repeated and successful attempts to sabotage investigations. Siddiqui is believed to have suggested that many of the junior police personnel acted on the instructions of top politicians in the government of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal.

The first complaints about the Kakkar Hospital reached the police as early as 1997, from donors who never received their promised payments. In many cases, the complainants faced police harassment, and even arrest, since paid donors are technically guilty of a crime. Several donors had complained that they were subjected to beatings and custodial threats after they complained to the police about the racket.

No one is certain if Siddiqui's report will lead to administrative or criminal action, but Rajan Gupta is already feeling the heat. The State government recently cleared a formal request from the SIT to arrest his one-time staff officer, Inspector Gurdial Ram. Gurdial Ram, who has been absent from duties for at least two months, is believed to have now gone into hiding to avoid arrest. The Inspector, SIT sources say, is believed to have knowledge of the precise details of the financial relationship between his former boss and Sareen. "When we find Ram," a senior SIT source said, "we believe that we will most likely have to proceed against Gupta as well on the basis of what he tells us."

Punjab's experience shows just how seriously compromised the regulatory apparatus for live donor organ transplants in fact is. The Authorisation Committee in Amritsar, charged with interviewing potential donors to ensure they were in fact volunteers, never even met before clearing cases. The investigators say that Sareen and his staff routinely fabricated documents, which in most cases do not even mention the real names of organ recipients and donors. Staff at the Kakkar Hospital were even able to use their influence to fudge the records of deaths of donors and generate paperwork showing that they were indigents and had died natural deaths, it is alleged. Worst of all, the local police themselves were influenced by the well-connected organ trade lobby.

Clearly, prosecuting the officers alone will not be enough. A serious look at the flawed Transplantation of Human Organs Act has become necessary.

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