New Delhi: In a landmark judgment on Friday, the Delhi High Court awarded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh in a criminal matter to the petitioners – wife and children of ‘biscuit king’ Rajan Pillai, 16 years after he allegedly died in judicial custody due to lack of medical care and incompetence of the doctors in Tihar jail. The order came on a petition filed in 1998 by Nina Pillai, widow of the Singapore-based business tycoon.

While reserving its order, the court observed that Pillai’s death was largely due to lack of medical facility in Tihar which is a major deficiency and negligence from the government side. Hence, Justice S Muralidhar issued a slew of directions aimed at improving medical care at the jail.

Justice Murlidhar while commenting strongly on the issue ordered the government to pay the compensation amount to Pillai’s wife and the petitioner Nina Ranjan and his two sons within a period of four weeks. Not only this, it also directed the government to bear the hearing expenses of Rs 20,000.

The court allowed Nina to use the amount in any charitable cause of their choice in keeping with the statement made by them (family) during the hearing.

The Singapore-based Indian industrialist Pillai, who was suffering from various ailments including alcoholic liver cirrhosis, had died at Deen Dayal Upadhayay Hospital here on July 7, 1995 due to lack of proper medical care.

Pillai, who fled from Singapore and was on run to avoid a jail term in a criminal case there, was arrested by the CBI from a five-star hotel here following a red corner notice issued against him.

He was lodged in Tihar jail by a Delhi court during the pendency of extradition proceedings which was initiated by at the request of the Singapore government.

Holding the state liable for lapses which led to his death, Justice Muralidhar said, "Pillai's death occurred while he was in judicial custody. There is both a constitutional and a legal obligation of the state, in terms of Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution, to protect the life and liberty of every inmate of a prison."

The court, which issued a slew of directions, asked the Delhi government and the Tihar administration to implement recommendations of Justice Leila Seth Commission of Inquiry, instituted to look into the death of Pillai. In the report it was highlighted that there was recklessness from the government side in providing the medical aid to Pillai.

The report called for steps to de-congest "overcrowded" jails and also pointed out that instead of 17 sanctioned posts; only six doctors were working in 1995.

"The prisoners should have access to fresh air and be allowed to spend a large period of their time in purposeful activity and remain unlocked for the maximum period possible," the report said.

Primary healthcare be provided on a 24-hour basis and be supplemented by visiting specialists, it said. The court also asked the Tihar administration to procure a well-equipped ambulance for prisoners.

(JPN/ Bureau)