Court orders ₹1 lakh compensation to family of bangle seller who went missing from hospital during COVID-19 treatment in 2020

The Madras High Court on Monday directed the State government to pay a compensation of ₹1 lakh to the family of a 72-year-old bangle seller who walked out of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) in Chennai where he was brought for COVID-19 treatment, in June 2020 and has since gone missing.

Justices P.N. Prakash and N. Anand Venkatesh agreed with advocate A. Yogeswaran that the septuagenarian Adikesavan of Alandur could have been traced if the inspector of St. Thomas Mount Police Station had registered a missing person case on June 17, 2020 itself without making the family run from pillar to post to get the complaint registered.

At the same time, considering the fact that the State government as well as the Greater Chennai Corporation were doing their best in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic at that time, the judges said they could not blame any single officer since so many people were involved in the events that led to the disappearance of the elderly man.

Not wanting to be harsh on the State government, the judges said nevertheless, on humanitarian grounds, it must pay a compensation of ₹1 lakh to the family of Mr. Adikesavan. They directed the police to continue investigation in the missing person case and trace the elderly man at the earliest.

Recalling the history of the case, Justice Venkatesh said Mr. Adikesavan had a wife, three sons and a daughter. All his children were not living with them. On June 9, 2020, after he tested positive for COVID-19 at a nearby primary health centre (PHC), an official of the Corporation visited his house on June 11, 2020 and took him in an ambulance to the Ekkattuthangal Urban Primary Health Centre. Mr. Adikesavan was referred to the Kilpauk Government Medical College and Hospital but his family members could not contact him since he did not carry a mobile phone with him.

Although the family members visited the PHC and then the hospital, they could not locate him. His youngest son A. Manivannan lodged a missing person complaint with the St. Thomas Mount Police Station on June 17, 2020. However, the police did not take the complaint seriously.

It was only after the family registered an online complaint on June 21, 2020 that the Kilpauk police station registered a First Information Report (FIR) on June 23, 2020. Since the police were unable to trace the old man, Mr. Manivannan filed a habeas corpus petition on July 2, 2020.

On July 7, 2020, the court was told that Mr. Adikesavan had been shifted from Kilpauk hospital to the RGGGH and that there was a video footage of him walking out of the hospital. The elderly man’s family saw the clip and confirmed that it was him. Thereafter, the Flower Bazaar police took up the investigation.

The police suspected that a body found in Egmore on August 3, 2020 could be that of Mr. Adikesavan. Therefore, they exhumed the body and conducted DNA test but it tested negative in December 2021. Since then, the police have not been able to trace the elderly man.

Not wanting to keep the petition pending any longer without any end in sight, the judges disposed it with a direction to the police to continue the search besides directing the government to compensate the family.

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