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Bombay HC quotes Oscar Wilde to rule Covid patients have ‘right to decent burial too’

Bombay High Court says the petition was rather insensitive and should ideally be dismissed with 'exemplary costs'.

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New Delhi: The Bombay High Court Friday rejected petitions challenging the Mumbai civic body’s decision to designate cemeteries for bodies of Covid-19 patients, reiterating everyone’s “right to a decent burial”.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S.S. Shinde was hearing a petition filed by four Bandra residents, challenging the validity of the circular issued by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on 9 April.

This circular had designated 20 burial grounds and cemeteries in the city, including three cemeteries in Bandra (West), for disposing of bodies of persons who died due to Covid-19.

The petitioners had asserted that the burial or cremation of Covid-19 patients so close to their residences would endanger their lives.

The court, however, pointed out that there was no evidence to support their claim that the disease could spread to people from infected bodies.

It also emphasised on the “right to a decent burial, commensurate with the dignity of the individual”, as being a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“There is, thus, no reason as to why an individual who dies during this period of crisis because of suspected/confirmed Covid-19 infection would not be entitled to the facilities he/she would have otherwise been entitled to but for the crisis,” it observed.

The court asserted that as long as the World Health Organization (WHO) and central government guidelines on the subject are being followed, it finds no reason to deny this right to those who pass away because of Covid-19.

Also read: Delhi violating ICMR, WHO norms by not Covid-testing the dead. But it’s not the only state

‘Death must be so beautiful’

The bench began its judgment quoting Oscar Wilde.

“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”

Taking note of the submissions made by the petitioners, as well as BMC and the state government, the court then referred to the norms laid down by the WHO as well as the central government on management of bodies of confirmed Covid-19 patients.

The court also took note of an earlier circular issued by BMC, which briefly disallowed the burial of Covid-19 patients and only permitted cremation.

But the 9 April circular corrected this, by notifying cemeteries to allow burials of Covid-19 patients as well. The court called the earlier move “drastic” and “without any scientific basis”, but appreciated the fact that it was rectified.

“To err is human but taking lessons from mistakes and rectifying the situation was the call of the moment. Proper management of disposal of dead bodies ought to have been worked out consistent with the recommendations of the WHO and the GoI (Government of India) guidelines as well as the sentiments of the members of the communities for whom burial of a dead member of such community is an integral part of their religious belief and faith,” it observed.

The petitions were then disposed of, with directions to the state government as well as BMC to ensure that all protective measures laid down by the central government are strictly complied with by the family of the deceased as well as the workers who handle the body.

Also read: No Covid test if patient is dead, Delhi govt says in new guidelines for disposal of bodies

‘Insensitive’ petitioners

The court also disapproved of the petition, calling it “misconceived and misdirected”.

It, in fact, said the petitioners were “rather insensitive to others’ feelings”, and observed: “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.”

The bench said that it should dismiss the petition with “exemplary costs” but refrained from doing so, saying that the petitioners may have approached the court out of panic, rather than genuinely believing that they actually had a strong case.

Also read: In India’s big Covid battle, urban local bodies are frontline warriors but have no money


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