A West Bengal court Tuesday extended by three days the police custody of six Advanced Medicare & Research Institute (AMRI) Hospital directors facing trial in connection with the devastating fire in the medical facility that left 93 people dead.
“In the interest of justice and for the purposes of investigation, this court thinks fit to extend the police custody of accused No.1 to 6 (AMRI directors) till Dec 23,” read the order of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Alipore Court (South 24 Parganas) Chowdhury Hefazat Karim.
In case of the seventh accused director, R.S. Agarwal, the court asked the state-run SSKM hospital to submit his medical report by Wednesday when he is slated to be produced before the court.
Agarwal got himself admitted to a private hospital where he was kept under arrest since the Dec 9 fire.
On Monday, he was brought to the court premises for production before the judge, but pleaded he was unwell and could not attend court.
The judge went to the ambulance to speak to him before directing that he be admitted in the state-run SSKM Hospital for thorough check up by a medical board of five doctors.
The medical board which was to submit a health report of Agarwal Tuesday failed to produce it during the court hours.
The six directors of the hospital, including Shrachi Group chairman S.K. Todi and his counterpart in the Emami Group R.S. Goenka, were nabbed hours after the fire Dec 9 in South Kolkata’s Dhakuria area and remanded in ten days’ police custody by the Alipore chief judicial magistrate’s court.
Moving bail petition for the accused, defence counsels Amitava Ganguly and Ashok Mukherjee contended that the accused being directors were not involved in the daily affairs of the hospital, and as such cannot be held directly liable.
They pleaded that the statements of the accused, basing upon which the prosecution was demanding their custody, were extra-judicial and not admissible in court.
The defence also argued that the case does not attract the provisions of section 304 (II), Indian Penal Code (IPC) – culpable homicide not amounting to murder. But it attracts relevant provisions of the Fire Services Act and section 304 A IPC, all of which are bailable offences.
The defence counsel further pleaded that the directors being only a part of the hospital administration did not have ‘mens rea’ (guilty mind), a prerequisite for establishing culpability.
“If a man driving a car meets with an accident due to brake failure and dies, should the directors of the car maker be held responsible for the death,” argued Mukherjee.
Appearing for the state, Kalyan Banerjee quoted statements of the accused and witnesses and produced investigation reports to prove his contention the directors were involved in daily affairs and acted negligently.
Quoting investigation reports, Banerjee said: “The directors in spite of being repeatedly informed about the lack of fire safety by their employees and the government, chose to ignore and remain adamant. This behaviour of the directors is sufficient enough to attract section 304 II.”
The prosecutor also argued that for the purpose of investigation it was essential that the accused be taken to the place of occurrence as such their custody needed to be extended.
The pre-dawn blaze at 3.30 a.m. in the high-cost hospital — co-founded by the Emami and Shrachi Groups along with the state government in 1996 — choked to death mostly critically ill patients — many of them in their sleep — and two nurses, while most doctors and other staffers were able to get away.