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Guidelines To Repatriate Dead Bodies: Madras High Court Suo Moto Impleads MEA In Pudukkottai Fisherman Case

Sebin James
27 Nov 2021 6:28 AM GMT
Guidelines To Repatriate Dead Bodies: Madras High Court Suo Moto Impleads MEA In Pudukkottai Fisherman Case
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Following allegations of an unstitched body being handed over to the family of a Kottaipattinam fisherman who died at sea in a collision with the Sri Lankan Navy Vessel, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has suo moto impleaded the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Consulate General of India (Jaffna) to get a response on the guidelines followed for repatriation of dead bodies...

Following allegations of an unstitched body being handed over to the family of a Kottaipattinam fisherman who died at sea in a collision with the Sri Lankan Navy Vessel, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has suo moto impleaded the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Consulate General of India (Jaffna) to get a response on the guidelines followed for repatriation of dead bodies to India.

The order was passed by Justice GR Swaminathan days after he ordered the respondent authorities to exhume the fisherman's body and conduct a fresh post-mortem, as the fisherman's wife alleged that the Sri Lankan navy fired upon her husband and that he died due to gunshot injury, not drowning.

"When the petitioner has raised such genuine apprehensions, the State must allay the same," the Court had noted then.

On Friday, Advocate Henri Tiphagne appearing for the fisherman's wife, informed the Court that though no ante-mortem injuries were found on the body, as per the forensic report, the post-mortem of the deceased was conducted haphazardly by Jaffna Medical College, Srilanka, without according any respect to the dignity of the dead.

The petitioner, citing the Forensic Report, alleged that the post-mortem incisions were without any suturing, the dead body was merely wrapped in an old bedsheet instead of proper clothes, body cavities were visible and dissected internal organs were placed in a plastic bag.

The counsel then argued that though the post-mortem was conducted in Jaffna, India's Consular Authorities were also responsible for this situation.

He reminded the Court that the body was brought to the relatives in a sealed coffin, and a copy of the post mortem report was not given, contrary to the rules. The counsel relied on the NHRC issued Advisory to the Centre and States to ensure dignity and the rights of the dead dated 14th May, 2021 to bolster his argument. He argued that the external appearance and incisions should have been hidden by clothes before the families received them.

The counsel also added that the Ministry of External Affairs has issued a circular about how the dead bodies that come from outside in such cases must be handled. Medical Certificate, Death Certificate and a copy of the police report must accompany the dead body before it is handed over to the relatives. That was not the case for Raj Kiran, the fisherman who succumbed to death, argued the counsel. He also cited various International Instruments that mandate that the dead body be treated with dignity and respect.

The petitioner, the wife of Raj Kiran, had approached the High Court seeking directions to the State authorities to exhume the dead body from the common burial ground and conduct a forensic autopsy under the supervision of at least two doctors. She had also prayed for an independent and impartial investigation after the registration of FIR, along with periodic reporting of the progress to the High Court.

The deplorable manner in which the dead bodies are handled is not restricted to the case at hand; it's quite common when the dead bodies of fishermen are delivered after such incidents, especially from Sri Lanka, submitted the counsel. There have been instances where wrong bodies have been delivered to the families by Sri Lankan authorities, he added.

Thus, allowing impleadment of Union of India, the Court directed the petitioner to serve papers on the office of Additional Solicitor General.

The matter has been listed for further hearing on 13th December, 2021.

Case Title: R. Brundha v. The Principal Secretary, Home Department & Ors.

Case No: WMP(MD) No.17085 Of 2021 In WP(MD) No.20440 Of 2021

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