Kolkata: West Bengal will be the first state in India to hand over the bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients to their families in sealed body bags for paying their last respects, as well as allow them to collect ashes of those cremated.
The Calcutta High Court Wednesday directed the state government to hand over the bodies in body bags, preferably transparent on the face side, and to decontaminate the hearse or vehicle carrying them.
Mamata Banerjee’s government of West Bengal, meanwhile, has decided to allow relatives to pick up the ashes of cremated bodies after submitting an application at the civic authority concerned. Municipal bodies, in turn, have decided that the deceased’s kin need to write an application to the sub-register of the crematorium, and will get the ashes in a sealed box.
In June, Bengal was also the first state to allow a 30-minute window to family members to pay their respects before the last rites, while wearing masks and PPE kits provided by the hospitals.
The Calcutta High Court division bench of Chief Justice T.B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee was hearing a PIL on handing over the bodies to Covid-19 patients’ kin.
Allowing the move, the bench said it had considered the guidelines on dead body management by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the procedure laid down by the state.
“When post mortem of the dead body is not required, the dead body shall be handed over to the immediate next of kin of the deceased, after completion of hospital formalities. The body should be secured in a body bag, the face end of which should be preferably transparent and the exterior of which will be appropriately sanitised so as to minimise the risk to the people transporting the dead body,” said the court.
It added that “religious rituals, such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water, offering grains and such other last rites that do not require touching of the body should be allowed”. The face end of the bag will be unzipped by staff at the crematorium or burial ground for this. But the court has forbidden large funeral gatherings.
The court added that these were not “exhaustive guidelines”, and the state or local government could and should prescribe reasonable measures as advised by the experts.
A senior health department official said the Bengal government had taken the decision to allow families to take home ashes from the crematorium after consulting experts, and that it was in compliance with Union health ministry guidelines.
Atin Ghosh, deputy chairman of the board of administrators of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, told ThePrint that the decision was a “compassionate move”.
“We have already started accepting requests from relatives and kin willing to collect the ashes of their dear ones a few days ago,” said Ghosh, also the outgoing deputy mayor of the KMC in-charge of health.
About the court order to hand over bodies, Ghosh added: “We are yet to go through the order. After we read the order and discuss it with experts, we will be in a position to comment or take a call on this.”
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