High-profile individuals, when arrested, tend to suddenly need hospitalisationOften, lawyers and doctors are complicit in employing legal loopholes to help the accused avoid time in jail while in police custody.
Four days after his arrest on October 6, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the former Speaker of the House who is currently facing charges of attempted rape, was moved to Norvic Hospital after he complained of health problems. It has been nearly a month since Mahara was taken into custody by police and he has spent almost all of that time in the hospital. Even when he was produced before the judge for his detention hearing on Sunday, the police took him to court from the hospital and duly deposited him back.
Mahara is not an anomaly. Whenever high-profile people are accused of crimes and taken into custody for investigation, they immediately come down with an ailment and are admitted to hospital, excusing them from spending nights in jail.
Often, the lawyers defending the accused, along with the hospital and their doctors involved in “treating” them, employ legal loopholes to exempt the accused from spending time in police custody.
“There is no political leader in our country who does not have health problems,” said Dr Dharma Kanta Baskota, former chairman of the Nepal Medical Council. “The powerful and the well-off have always used such loopholes in the judicial system to evade custody. Such people complain of pain and exaggerate their problems.”
Police have not been able to conduct a DNA test on Mahara as he has refused to give blood for testing. According to Metropolitan Police Range spokesperson Hobindra Bogati, the police received a letter from Mahara’s doctors at Norvic stating blood cannot be drawn at the moment, given his health condition. A Norvic Hospital spokesperson, however, denied ever having sent such a letter, saying that a letter informing the police of Mahara’s right under law to refuse a DNA test was sent instead.
Mahara has been suffering from respiratory problems for a long time and he also has high blood pressure and blood sugar. Doctors at the hospital had carried out a coronary angiogram after he complained of severe chest pains, according to Dr JP Jaiswal, a senior consultant cardiologist at the hospital.
It’s a difficult situation for doctors, said Baskota.
“Doctors attending to someone—no matter what they are accused of—have to treat everyone as a patient. Doctors have the right to decide what is necessary for a patient’s safety,” said Baskota. “But if there is a suspicion that a doctor is colluding with the accused or if a doctor is hindering the investigation, police can also examine the authenticity of the doctor’s recommendation.”
In the past, numerous high-profile individuals have been admitted to hospital immediately upon being taken into custody. Naresh Thapa, younger brother of incumbent Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, was placed at the Chirayu Hospital after his arrest by the Nepal Police’s Central Investigation Bureau in September. In 2017, Director General of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) Chudamani Sharma was admitted to Norvic International Hospital a day after the Special Court remanded him in custody for corruption. Former minister Shyam Sundar Gupta, in 2010, was admitted to Himal Hospital for hypertension after being arrested for kidnapping and ransom.
According to doctors, in many of these cases, anxiety and stress can exacerbate existing conditions and lead to hospitalisation, but it is quite convenient for many that their afflictions seem to arise the moment they are taken into custody.
“I am not against the medical treatment of individuals suspected of crimes,” said Balram KC, a former Supreme Court judge. “But there is a rising trend of evading investigation and police custody by powerful people, which must stop. Everyone should be treated equally.”
KC suggested the formation of a powerful body—a medical board—that can investigate and make a decision on whether an accused needs hospitalisation.
The former judge cited a recent example from India, where the court had asked that a medical court be formed under the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to decide whether former finance minister P Chidambaram needed to be hospitalised. After the board decided that he did not, the court sent him to police custody.
“It is a serious thing if such people are depriving those in need of health services,” said Dr Bhagwan Koirala, who was only recently appointed the chair of the Nepal Medical Council. “Agencies like the Medical Council can probe and check such practices.”
The issue should not be generalised, but many high-profile people have misused their right to health and are living in luxury while their cases progress.
Police arrested Mahara on October 6 from his residence in Baluwatar following a court order to investigate rape allegations filed by a female staff member at the Parliament Secretariat, almost a week after allegations surfaced in the media. Mahara is the first high profile individual in the country to be arrested over rape allegations.
Police on October 24 filed a charge sheet against Mahara, demanding five to seven-and-a-half years in jail. The hearing on his case started on Friday, where Mahara denied allegations of attempted rape and said he did not even enter the apartment of the woman. According to court officials, the hearing will continue on Monday.
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