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Controversy over jailed civil rights activist's treatment

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Civil rights activist and paediatrician Dr Binayak Sen, who is in a Raipur jail for the last two years on charges of acting as a courier for Naxals while treating them in the jail, has found himself in a fresh controversy, this time over his own treatment for a heart ailment.

Sen’s supporters and his wife allege that he has been kept waiting for treatment despite a doctor’s advice two weeks ago to shift him to Christian Medical College, Vellore. But the jail authorities say they cannot move him out of Chhattisgarh for security reasons.

The court is yet to give its verdict, even as civil rights activists say that an undertrial’s right to medical aid makes it a medical issue rather than a legal one. Activist Sabu George said it was no longer a legal issue, citing the recommendations of the Leila Seth Commission, formed after the death of biscuit king Rajan Pillai in jail after alleged denial of medical care. The commission had said an undertrial has the privilege of seeking medical aid of his choice.

Groups demanding Sen’s release are smelling a tussle between the jail authorities and the fast-track court dealing with his case. According to George, the police have objected to the judge allowing Sen the privilege of seeking medical advice from a local cardiologist, which led to Sen asking for treatment at a place of his choice.

Sen’s wife Elina Sen said: “There is pressure on my husband from the jail authorities to take treatment at the Ambedkar medical college in Raipur rather than press for treatment outside Chhattisgarh. Sen has written a letter insisting that he does not want treatment at Ambedkar hospital and should be allowed to go to Vellore. This letter has also been given to the court along with the doctor’s recommendation,” she said.

However, Raipur jail superintendent S S Digga said the state had offered to get him treated at Apollo or Escorts Hospital in Raipur. “When the best hospitals are available here why should he be taken out of the state, compromising security issues?” he asked.

He denied that Sen had been asked to take treatment at the medical college hospital. “If Apollo Hospital cannot provide treatment then we can send him out,” he said, adding that there were no differences between the court and jail authorities on the matter. Asked whether this stand-off between the state and the prisoner would put Sen’s life in danger, Digga said the court’s direction would be implemented.

The court will hold its next hearing tomorrow.

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First Published: Fri, April 24 2009. 00:43 IST