Bodies of Covid-19 patients shall be handed over to relatives of the deceased for completion of last rites following safety precautions, ruled the Calcutta high court on Wednesday.
The petitioner, Vineet Ruia, had told the court that bodies of Covid-19 patients were being “disposed of by the administration unceremoniously and in an undignified manner without showing even a resemblance of respect to the mortal remains of the dead person”.
Families were not being allowed to perform last rites or see the bodies to pay their last respects, the petitioner had said.
After hearing the plea, chief justice TB Radhakrishnan and justice Arijit Banerjee laid down nine guidelines for the government to follow.
The bodies shall be handed over to the families only if post mortem examination is not required, the judges said. They also said that the bodies have to be taken from hospitals to cremation or burial grounds without any stopover.
In case there is nobody to claim a body, it should be cremated or buried with dignity at the state expense, the order said.
In its order, the court said that after completion of hospital formalities, a body should be secured in a body bag, the face-end of which should be preferably transparent and the exterior of which should be sanitised to eliminate/minimise the risk of people carrying it getting infected.
People handling the body should wear gloves and masks and PPE suits if possible, said the order, adding that the same rules would apply to the staff at the crematorium or burial ground. The hearse has to be sanitised too.
The face-end of the body bag may be unzipped by the staff at the crematorium/burial ground “to allow the relatives to see the body for the last time,” said the order.
“At that time, 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 judges said.
Since the bodies are being handled by state government personnel following guidelines issued by the Union health ministry on March 15 and a notification by the state government on June 6, the court heard both the Centre and the state before passing the order on Wednesday.
There have been nine hearings since June 5. The Centre was represented by three lawyers while the West Bengal government was represented by advocate general Kishore Dutta and three lawyers.
The petitioner had also said that the state government was not properly recording deaths and was not announcing the names of deceased patients. The court observed that it was satisfied with the measures taken by the state.