In his long career in forensic medicine, Dr Shailesh Mohite has been part of some sensational cases, including the Sheena Bora murder and the autopsy of terrorist Abu Ismail. We reached out to Dr Mohite — Professor and the Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at Nair Hospital, Mumbai — to demystify the autopsy process and shed some light on the controversy surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput’s autopsy. Excerpts from our conversation:

How important is an autopsy report in a case like that of Sushant Singh Rajput?
According to our Indian judicial system, an autopsy is of utmost importance. It tells us various things — from identification, to the cause, manner of death, the evidence that needs to be preserved, time since death — all queries are answered at the end of the autopsy. So, it forms a crucial part of evidence.

What factors do medical professionals keep in mind while carrying out an autopsy and drawing conclusions?
There are a lot of individual variations that could occur depending on the circumstances. So, while conducting the autopsy, noting down findings or interpreting the findings, we need to keep a lot of things in mind. For instance — the sex of the person, the build, age, the environment in which the body was found, whether it’s summer or winter, temperature, was the body wearing clothes or not, was it found in water or on dry ground and so on.

Can the same autopsy report be interpreted differently by two medical professionals?
Yes, there could be slight differences of opinion. While giving an opinion, one should always say that the opinions are based on the above mentioned observations. So, if it goes to another expert, he or she knows the points that have been taken into account while coming to those conclusions. In case they have anything to add, they can always mention the facts taken into consideration apart from the ones stated by the previous doctor. Documents like the ADR (accidental death report), the panchnama, and statements of relatives also have to be taken into account and noted in the final report so that there is no ambiguity.

Dr Sudhir Gupta from AIIMS is said to have found discrepancies in Sushant’s autopsy report. It’s also in the news that the time of death was not mentioned in the report. What does this essentially mean?
It’s difficult for me to speak on Dr Sudhir’s comment about contradictions, since he has not listed those out, though I am sure he has considered all the documents. As for the time, I can show you copies of post-mortem reports. There is no specific column for time since death. But it states the deductions of the medical officer about the time since death from the stomach contents. Time since death is derived through various factors like rigor mortis, post-mortem lividity, coldness or warmth of the body, decomposition changes if any. The post mortem report also mentions the stomach contents. The circumstantial evidence provided by the police are taken into consideration before arriving at an idea of the time since death. If anyone claims that time since death is not mentioned, it is like saying that I have maintained a book of accounts, mentioning the expenses but have not totalled it at the end. But from the individual entries, I can, at any given time, deduce it.

Following Sushant’s death, a few pictures were leaked and circulated. What are the things that one needs to look at as circumstantial evidence?
One needs to be very sure that these are authentic photos, not morphed ones, before commenting. I would suggest that experts, before commenting, see to it that those are authenticated by the investigating officer who will put his signature and forward it. Only those can be taken as authentic and can be permitted in court as evidence.

Some reports had questioned the need to conduct Sushant’s autopsy at night. In a situation like this, how long would it have taken the doctors to inspect his body, and is there a provision to conduct an autopsy at night?
In Mumbai, there is a specific circular from the Government of Maharashtra which states that post mortem should be done in 24 hours, except for cases of negligence and cases of murder/ homicide where the police officer has mentioned it in the papers.

Many reports have questioned the need to take his body to Dr. RN Cooper Municipal General Hospital when another ambulance from a hospital closer to his residence was present. What are the parameters of choosing a hospital?

There is no choice here. By government orders, the 90-plus police stations in the city have been divided — police stations are attached to the post-mortem centres, and we have about 10 of them: St George, GT, JJ Hospital, Nair, KEM, Sion, Rajawadi, Cooper Hospital, Siddharth Hospital and Bhagwati. For example, five police stations are attached to Nair Hospital and bodies from their jurisdictions will be brought here.

You are suggesting that taking Sushant’s body to Cooper Hospital was essentially a procedural decision?
Yes. Bandra police station has Cooper Hospital assigned to them.

Leaked pictures of Sushant’s body led to an outcry on social media. The ligature marks and other signs on his body have been questioned by people, some of whom are medical practitioners and criminal lawyers. By looking at a picture and a ligature mark on one’s neck, can you clearly tell how the death occurred?
As I said, no one should opine without an authenticated photograph. From one photo, one cannot say anything. The photos have to be taken from all sides. People need to understand that there is a difference between a forensic medicine expert (medical graduates), who has conducted autopsies and a forensic scientist (non-medical persons) who has never conducted a single autopsy but has analysed documents, conducted chemical analyses of the viscera and studied the biological evidences. Criminal lawyers have never conducted an autopsy — it is only a medical doctor, who is a forensic expert with experience in autopsies, who can opine on post mortem and injuries.

How many medical professionals are usually required for a post mortem and what are their ideal qualifications? And when you form a team of doctors for an autopsy, are they called in by appointment or are they chosen from those present in the hospital?
The rules are that any registered medical practitioner, which means anyone with an MBBS qualification, can conduct an autopsy. But ideally, a forensic medicine expert, or at times a pathologist is best suited to conduct autopsies. A forensic medicine expert is ideal in cases that show violence. If there is negligence or disease, it is ideal to bring in a pathologist. If the hospital also houses a medical college running postgraduate courses, then apart from a team of experts, there could be postgraduate trainee doctors, too. Every medical college has a forensic medicine department. For routine purposes, there is a duty list and every doctor is assigned duties. Even one doctor can do an autopsy. But, when you require assistance, the head of the department can ask other doctors to assist. All of them present for the autopsy will sign on the report.


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By vinayak