LAHORE: The caretaker government in Punjab has launched the much-delayed project of biometric identification of unidentified, unclaimed and unattended bodies in collaboration with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department on Thursday.

Initially, the scheme has been made operational at the 50 teaching hospitals, 26 district headquarters (DHQs) hospitals and 115 tehsil headquarters hospitals (THQs) where the biometric identification of the unclaimed bodies and patients would be carried out through a specially designed software system.

A ceremony to sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) was held at the King Edward Medical University (KEMU) where Caretaker Health Minister Punjab Prof Dr Javed Akram, KEMU Vice Chancellor Prof Ayaz Mahmood, Dr Salman Kazmi, who had taken up the issue with the higher authorities, were also present.

NADRA Punjab Director General Sohail Jahangir, deputy directors Muhammad Waqas and Imran Nazeer participated from the authority to sign the MoU.

Initiated in collaboration with Nadra, health dept

An official said the Punjab Police would be responsible to trace the relatives of the unidentified patients or the dead bodies once identification would be done by the NADRA software. Originally, the project was proposed three years back when Dr Salman Kazmi from Mayo Hospital took the matter up with the high-ups, saying many unidentified patients and bodies arriving at the emergency ward of the hospital were buried or disposed of without tracing or reaching out to their relatives.

At that time he had moved the Lahore High Court where he took up the public interest matter, saying the Mayo Hospital alone was receiving nearly 40 to 50 unclaimed bodies every month other than unidentified patients in its heavily-burdened accident & emergency department. After hearing the case, the LHC had directed the institutes concerned to sign an MoU for “biometric fingerprints of unknown dead bodies/unattended/unidentified patients/drug addicts’’.

However, the matter remained pending between the government departments, including health, home and NADRA, as no one was ready to pay a petty amount of Rs200 as identification cost.

Meanwhile, a scam of decomposed bodies at the rooftop of the Nishtar Hospital Multan surfaced and the issue again came to the limelight in the national media, bringing a bad name to the country.

A senior lawyer, Azhar Siddique, again filed a petition before the LHC to get orders for all the relevant departments to clear the hurdles and implement the project in the best interest of the public to bring a permanent solution to the much-needed issue. He pleaded that the Punjab government should be directed to declare mandatory biometric verification of every unclaimed body and unidentified patients coming to the government hospitals across the province.

The LHC later issued directives for the state institutions, including NADRA and the Punjab home and health departments, to sign an MoU to materialise the scheme.

Following the court orders, the stakeholders concerned held several official meetings and finally the project was launched here on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2023

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