Covid-19 victims can’t be deprived of decent burial, says HCUpdated: May 22, 2020 20:49 IST
Covid-19 victims cannot be deprived of the right to a decent burial, especially when there is no evidence to suggest that cadavers can spread the virus, the Bombay high court said on Friday, while dismissing a petition filed by four Bandra residents seeking prohibition on the burial of Covid-19 victims at three inter-connected Muslim cemeteries in the vicinity of their residence.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice SS Shinde said in Parmanand Katara’s case the Supreme Court has held that the right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 of the Constitution is not only available to a living man but also to his body after his death.
“Right to a decent burial, commensurate with the dignity of the individual, is recognized as a facet of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution,” said the bench referring to the apex court decision. “There is, thus, no reason as to why an individual who dies during this period of crisis because of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection would not be entitled to the facilities he or she would have otherwise been entitled to but for the crisis,” the bench added.
The four petitioners had challenged the validity of a circular issued by the BMC commissioner on April 9 identifying the three inter-connected Muslim cemeteries as sites for burial of Covid-19 victims.
They complained that the cemeteries were at the heart of Bandra west and were surrounded by thickly populated residential areas.
They said on March 30, the BMC had decided to cremate bodies all Covid-19 victims at the nearest crematorium, irrespective of their religion. “The said decision was taken as the burial grounds in Mumbai are in highly dense
localities, with high chances of contamination in dense residential areas nearby,” said their petition.
They added that the April 9 circular was completely contrary to the March 30 decision and therefore prayed for an order restraining the civic body from allowing the burial of any Covid-19 victim at the three Muslim cemeteries.
The state government had opposed the petition by pointing out that burial at the cemeteries was not likely to spread the deadly virus in surrounding areas.
“It is declared by the World Health Organisation that coronavirus is not air bound and hence transmission of the virus to other people staying in the vicinity of the burial ground is highly impossible,” said the government.
“The transmission cannot happen unless people in the locality come in direct contact with the dead body brought for burial or cremation,” it said, adding, “Direct contact of people staying in the locality with a dead body is impossible as the dead body is wrapped in plastic by hospital staff before handing over the body to its relatives for cremation.”
BMC supported the government stating WHO guidelines on bodies of Covid-19 patients “clearly stipulate that except in cases of haemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Other than the above, cadavers do not transmit the disease.”
The high court accepted their contentions. The bench said in the system of governance prevailing in our country, it is highly unlikely that a Governmental decision would please each and every citizen. “While dissent on valid grounds could contribute to newer developments in the matter of framing of policies, resentment of the nature put forth by the Petitioners in WP-I leaves a bad taste in the mouth,” it said while dismissing the petition.