Taking cognisance of the letter of a former Chairman of the State Minorities Commission, the Telangana High Court on Wednesday issued notice to the state on the plea that the dead bodies belonging to minority community are not being permitted to be buried, inter alia, on the ground that they are affected by COVID.
"This is creating difficulties for the bereaved families. Therefore, action should be taken against those who are refusing to permit the families to intern the bodies", it was urged before the Chief Justice-led bench.
Abid Rasool Khan, Former Chairman, State Minorities Commission, had on May 28 addressed a letter to the Court pointing out how a fifty years old person named Sri Mohd. Khaja died in Hyderabad, and the family members approached the Managing Committees of five graveyards in the vicinity, seeking a place to bury the deceased, but the burial was not permitted. "The Managing Committees of the Wakf are under the control of Telangana Wakf Board and they manage the burial grounds and are vested with huge extents of lands and are being used for the welfare of the minorities including the burial grounds; by collecting huge amounts for burying the dead and misusing the amounts so collected", he averred.
It was prayed that the court issue necessary orders or directions to the respondent-state authorities "for suspension of powers of the Managing Committees of the Wakfs during the COVID-l9 pandemic and entrust the Management of the same to the Revenue Officials, for allotting places in the burial grounds for burying dead muslims and further direct the Police Department to take stern action against those who refuse to allow burial ofdead muslim persons in the said Burial Grounds".
The Supreme Court on June 11, 2020 took suo motu cognizance of former Union Law Minister and Senior Advocate Ashwani Kumar's letter highlighting news reports about the undignified treatment and disposal of the bodies of COVID-19 patients. A three-Judges Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan has been assigned by the Chief Justice S. A. Bobde to examine the issue. Mr. Kumar wrote that indignity shown to the dead amounts to a "grave infraction of the citizen's right to die with dignity".
In Re the Proper Treatment of COVID-19 Patients and Dignified Handling of Dead Bodies in the Hospitals etc.,Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No(s). 7/2020 was scheduled to be heard on 12th June, 2020 and the presiding corum included Hon'ble Mr. Justice Ashok Bhushan, Hon'ble Mr. Justice S K Kaul and Hon'ble Mr. Justice M.R. Shah. In Paragraph 1 of the said order, the bench assessed the media reports and programmes aired in several channels as evidences where patients were in the wards and the dead bodies were also in the same wards. Dead bodies were also seen in the lobby and waiting area. The patients were not supplied with any oxygen support or any other support; no saline drips were shown with the beds and there was no one to attend the patients.
The bench held that: "the Guidelines on Dead Body Management issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Directorate General of Health Services on 15.03.2020 which are in the nature of directives, we notice that there is no proper adherence to the guidelines nor the hospitals are giving due care and concern to the dead bodies. The patients' relatives are not even informed for several days of the death of the patient as has been reported in the media. It is also brought to our notice that the details of cremation as to when the dead body will be cremated are not even informed to their close relatives. Due to which the families of the patients are not even able to see the dead bodies or attend their last funeral rites. We, thus, issue notice to the Union of India, NCT of Delhi, States of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat as well as to the LNJP Hospital in Delhi. We shall also consider issuing notice to other states, Government and Private hospitals subsequently. Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General accepts notice on behalf of the Union of India and Mr. Sanjay Jain, learned ASG accepts notice on behalf of the NCT of Delhi. Let notice be served to other States through the standing counsel of the States as well as through the Chief Secretaries of the State Governments. LNJP hospital, Delhi be also noticed through its Director. We direct that the Chief Secretaries of the States shall immediately take appropriate notice of the status of patients' management in the Government hospital in their respective States and take remedial action. Status report with regard to Government hospitals, patient care and the details of the staff, infrastructure, etc. should be brought before the Court so that appropriate directions be issued by the Court as found necessary on the next date of hearing".
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