COVID-19: Bombay HC rejects plea against burials in cemeteries in residential areas

Photo for representational purpose.

Photo for representational purpose.   | Photo Credit: AP

It says there is no scientific data to prove the claim that the virus can be transmitted

The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed a petition challenging a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) circular on burial of novel coronavirus in cemetries close to thickly populated residential areas.

The petition filed by Bandra residents had claimed there was a high chance of contamination if bodies of these patients are buried in cemeteries close to residential areas. The BMC circular, dated April 9, had identified 20 burial grounds for burial of COVID-19 victims.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice S.S. Shinde dismissed the petition and said there was no scientific proof to support the apprehension of the petitioners that novel coronavirus could spread through cadavers.

The Bench also took into consideration the arguments by advocate Pratap Nimbalkar representing Navpada Masjid, and Santacruz Golibar Dargah Trust — which manages private Muslim cemeteries — and the replies filed by the State government and BMC.

Mr. Nimbalkar informed the court that all precautions were taken by the Trust, and that it had identified isolated spots for the burial of novel coronavirus victims.

The State government stated that burial at the cemeteries was not likely to spread the virus in the vicinity, and quoted a WHO report to say, “WHO has declared that novel coronavirus is not air bound, and hence, transmission of the virus from burial ground to people living in the vicinity is highly impossible”.

“The transmission cannot happen unless people in the locality come in direct contact with the body brought for burial or cremation,” the State said.

The BMC, in its reply to the court, also referred to WHO guidelines to say that bodies are generally not infectious except in cases of haemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola) and cholera. “Other than the above diseases, cadavers don’t transmit the disease,” the BMC said.

The judges noted that “resentment of the nature put forth by the petitioners leaves a bad taste in the mouth”, and added that they found “the petitioners to be rather insensitive to others’ feelings.”’ They said, “In the system of governance prevailing in our country, it is highly unlikely that a Governmental decision would please each and every citizen.”

The Bench further noted, “It has been held that right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian 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 recognised as a facet of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The founding fathers of the Constitution felt that the people of India would strive to provide fraternity to all its citizens, assuring the dignity of an individual, the Bench observed and said, “That is the preambular promise.”

Petitioners’ case

The issue started when residents near a cemetery close to Navpada Masjid in Bandra (West) objected to the burial of a COVID-19 patient on April 13 and locked the gates of the cemetery. Following this incident, four Bandra residents filed a petition in high court.

On April 27, Justice B.P. Colabawalla of the high court refused to interfere with the BMC circular and asked the civic body to reopen the cemetery while granting it liberty to take the help of police if needed.

The petitioners then approached the Supreme Court where a Bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and Indira Banerjee refused a stay on the BMC circular and had asked the high court to decide on the petition within 12 weeks.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 6:09:01 PM |

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