"Larger public interest always prevails over personal rights and the traditions and customs have to yield to the national interest especially in these unprecedented times," observed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court while refusing to pass directions for handing of over dead bodies of Covid-19 victims to their next of kin.
A Bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul observed that the guidelines issued by the Centre on Covid-19 dead body management sufficiently takes care of the religious sentiments of the family members and do not require any interference.
Advocate General DC Raina, AAG Aseem Sawhney and Govt Advocate Sajad Ashraf appearing for the State informed the Court that the Central guidelines accord permission to view the face of the dead body by unzipping the bag and to perform last rites and rituals without touching the body. In this backdrop the Court held,
"The religious sentiments of the family members have been sufficiently taken care of by the Government. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has framed the aforesaid guidelines in consultation with the experts dealing with Covid-19 pandemic and, as such, if the guidelines do not permit handing over of the dead body specifically to the next of the kins and simply allow them to participate in the cremation/ burial and to perform the last rites that is more than sufficient otherwise it would be difficult to contain the spread of the disease."
Adding a word of caution nonetheless, the Bench said that the next of kins of any person dying due to Covid-19should not be harassed in viewing the face of the deceased and in allowing them to perform the last rites in the manner laid down.
The Division Bench also refused the prayer for conversion of Government stadiums into vaccination centres.
It stated that such a prayer cannot be considered by the Court as it is for the administration to consider, if they are short of place for vaccination centres. If there is any shortage or need for extra place for vaccination centres, the administration would certainly evolve methods to arrange for adequate space and establish the same, it said.
"The creation of large vaccination centres may not be ex facie feasible as it would result in concentration of large number of people at one place which would be very risky and may be a cause of spread of Covid-19."
Lastly, the Bench dealt with the issue of Oxygen supply and opined that even though there is no immediate shortage of liquid medical oxygen, production plants may be established by the UT administration for meeting future contingencies.
"There may not be any shortage of oxygen presently but for future to combat the anticipated third wave of Covid-19, it would be appropriate if the Government consider establishing of oxygen generation plants in each of the Government Medical Colleges or the allied hospitals. This would be beneficial for the medical world for all times to come in extending medical treatment to all categories of patients," it said.
The Bench expressed hope that the Government would prepare itself in advance to face the third wave, if any, and for that purpose will ramp up the vaccination drive. "Temporary arrangements so for made may not be completely dismantled and may be kept in readiness for future," it added.
Advocate Monika Kohli is amicus curiae in the matter.
The matter is now listed for hearing on July 6.
Case Title: Court on its own motion v. Union Territory of J&K & Ors.