Observing that a prisoner does not cease to be a human being and even when lodged in jail cannot be deprived of the right to life, the Bombay High Court on Thursday directed that a terminally ill undertrial – arrested for her alleged role in the Gadchiroli blast in 2019 – be shifted from Byculla women’s jail to a hospice for cancer patients.
The division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice N J Jamadar directed the superintendent of Byculla jail to shift Nirmala Kumari Uppuganti to Shanti Avedna Sadan, a hospice centre “under requisite escort and appropriate security” by September 15. Uppuganti has been suffering from breast cancer since 2018. The cancer has now spread to her vital organs, including her liver, bones and brain.
“Undoubtedly, the petitioner (Uppuganti) is arraigned for grave offences. Yet, in the peculiar facts of the case, especially having regard to the serious medical condition of the petitioner and the fact that she is stated to be terminally ill, absence of a provision of requisite palliative care and support would impinge on her right to life with dignity. It is trite that the right to life guaranteed to every person by Article 21 of the Constitution is a basic postulate of human right,” the HC said.
“A prisoner, he be a convict or undertrial or a detenu, does not cease to be a human being, and even when lodged in the jail, he is not deprived of his right to life guaranteed to him under Article 21 of the Constitution, which includes the right to obtain medical treatment,” it added.
The court said that the prognosis of the disease is usually associated with “excruciating pain and suffering” and the necessity of palliative care and nursing can “hardly be overemphasised”.
It added that with the medical team set up to examine Uppuganti saying that she is terminally ill with a remote possibility of cure, palliative care remains the viable course of action.
Public prosecutor Sangeeta Shinde had told HC that Uppuganti was being provided medical treatment and taken care of by prison staffers and co-inmates in jail.
In her petition filed last month through lawyer Payoshi Roy, Uppuganti had said that she was finding it difficult to remain in her prison cell, as she has to sleep on the floor and has no access to hot water or medical assistance.
“Without reflecting upon the facilities at Byculla prison, which are being provided to the prisoners, we are of the view that those facilities may not be adequate and effective to provide the requisite palliative care and support to the petitioner at this stage,” the HC said, adding that with the disease having spread to multiple organs, Uppuganti would require trained and professional medical care providers.
Allowing Uppuganti to be admitted for her 12-week planned treatment, the HC directed the jail superintendent to coordinate with the administrator of the hospice to make proper arrangements for her admission and stay both from the point of security and to ensure that other patients are not inconvenienced.
Uppuganti will also be taken to Tata Memorial Hospital for treatment as per the advice of doctors and allowed telephonic conversation with her husband Sathyanarayanan Rani, a co-accused in the case who is lodged at Arthur Road jail.
The two, along with others, were arrested in 2019 for their alleged involvement in an IED blast in Gadchiroli that killed 16 people, including 15 personnel from the Quick Response Team.