The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed a public interest litigation alleging negligence in management of dead bodies of Covid-19 victims by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai staff after the Corporation filed an affidavit categorically denying the allegations in the PIL and asserting that guidelines of the Health Ministry are being strictly followed for disposal of dead bodies.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice NJ Jamadar was hearing a PIL filed by Ketan Tirodkar, an activist who contended that the smoke emanating from the chimneys at crematoriums in Shivaji Park and Chandanwadi is dangerous for the MCGM workers handling the bodies.
Shivaji Park Crematorium in Dadar West and Chandanwadi crematorium in Charni Road have been receiving major workload as they are in the close vicinity of major State & Civil hospitals. Around 18 to 20 bodies are received every day by these two crematoriums. The staff is not given adequate medication and the protective overalls, petitioner claimed.
The Corporation filed an affidavit-in-reply, categorically denying the material allegations in the PIL. Referring to the guidelines dated March 15, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India on management of dead bodies and a circular dated June 4, 2020 issued by it laying down Standard Operating Procedures for handling of dead bodies, the Corporation contended that the provisions of the guidelines are being strictly enforced so as to keep the spread of the virus within manageable limits.
Moreover, relying on the decision of a coordinate Bench of this Court dated May 22, 2020 passed in (Pradeep Gandhy & Ors. vs. State of Maharashtra & Ors.) and other connected matters, which dealt with the issue of decent burial of COVID victims, it was emphasized that things are moving in the right direction and that there is no case for judicial intervention.
Thereafter, a rejoinder affidavit was filed by the petitioner. In the affidavit, it has been vaguely alleged that the guidelines that are issued are not being strictly followed by the Corporation. Particulars of any specific incident are not provided.
The bench questioned the petitioner's counsel Adv Aparna Vhatkar on the point of absence of particulars and she submitted that since the petitioner during the period of lockdown is away in Pune, he has been disabled in furnishing particulars.
After conclusion of submissions, the bench noted-
"The allegations made by the petitioner do not as such appear to be based on his personal knowledge, though paragraphs 1 to 8 are verified as true to the best of his knowledge. Whatever he has learnt on reading certain newspaper reports has triggered the institution of this PIL Petition.
In course of hearing, Ms. Vhatkar admits that newspaper reports are not admissible evidence. No material has been placed before us which could even remotely support or validate the stand that the petitioner has taken in the PIL Petition. In the absence of the relevant data, we hold his fears and concerns to be misconceived. That the petitioner has been residing in Pune during the lockdown period and alleging mismanagement in Mumbai has also left us to wonder how he could have verified the pleadings in the PIL Petition as true to the best of his knowledge. That the petitioner has been residing in Pune, for which he could not provide relevant facts and figures for drawing up the PIL Petition in a more comprehensive manner, is also of little importance."
While the petitioner sought directions for ensuring that dead bodies of such Covid-19 victims are wrapped in leak proof bags and 1% 'hypochlorite' is applied over such bodies, the Corporation emphatically asserted that the guidelines dated March 15, 2020 and June 4, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India as well as the Corporation itself, respectively, are being scrupulously followed and enforced in the matter of management and disposal of dead bodies of Covid-19 victims.
"Not only has the Corporation pleaded that the polythene bags in which the cadavers are wrapped are of the requisite quality, it is also pleaded that 'hypoclorite', to the extent necessary, is being administered on the cadaver so as to prevent the spread of the virus. Reference has also been made to other clauses of the guidelines which the Corporation has been adhering to, to ensure that the people residing in the vicinity of the crematoriums within the municipal limits are kept free from contracting any infection to the extent possible", Court said.
Thus, Court concluded that no case for interference has been made out by the petitioner and dismissed the PIL -
"We, however, hope and trust that the Corporation shall continue to earnestly adhere to and enforce the extant guidelines so that life of each and every citizen is preserved and that they are not put to unnecessary distress as a result of the contagion."
Case Number: PIL-CJ-LD-VC-29 of 2020 Case Name: Ketan Tirodkar Vs. State of Maharashtra & Anr.Coram: Dipakar Datta CJ and NJ Jamadar JCounsel: Adv Aparna Vhatkar for Petitioner, GP PP Kakade for State and Sr Adv AY Sakhare for MCGM
Case Number: PIL-CJ-LD-VC-29 of 2020
Case Name: Ketan Tirodkar Vs. State of Maharashtra & Anr.
Coram: Dipakar Datta CJ and NJ Jamadar J
Counsel: Adv Aparna Vhatkar for Petitioner, GP PP Kakade for State and Sr Adv AY Sakhare for MCGM
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