The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India, keeping in view the large number of deaths and reports in the media about the mismanagement /mishandling of Covid-19 affected dead bodies today issued an Advisory to the Centre and States for protecting the dignity and the rights of the dead. This is the second as part of 2.0 series of Advisories that the Commission has issued in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
This Advisory also gathers significance in the context of the NHRC notices issued to the Centre, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments yesterday on a complaint about floating dead bodies in the Ganga River.
The Commission has said that it is a well- accepted legal position that the right to life, fair treatment and dignity, derived from the Article 21 of the Constitution of India, extends not only to the living persons but also to their dead bodies. It has noted that despite High Court and the Supreme Court judgements, international covenants, guidelines by WHO, NDMA, Govt. Of India regarding the maintenance of Covid protocol upholding the dignity of the dead, reports are coming in the media about lowering the dignity of the dead during Covid-19 pandemic.
The Commission, in a letter through its Secretary General, Mr. Bimbadhar Pradhan to the Union Home Secretary, Union Health & Family Welfare Secretary and the Chief Secretaries/ Administrators of States and Union Territories, has asked for the implementation of its recommendations in the Advisory and the action taken report within four weeks.
The Commission has observed that though there is no law to protect the rights of the dead in the country, however, drawing references from the interpretation of the Constitutional mechanism, various Court Judgements, international Covenants and Govt. Guidelines, it has said that it is the duty of the State to protect the rights of the deceased and crime over the dead body and prepare a SOP in consultation with all stakeholders so that the dignity of the dead is maintained.
The Commission has given wide-ranging recommendations for different stakeholders in the society including, among others, governments, police, administration, local bodies, hospitals, medical practitioners, prison administrations, civil society, media and families for extending dignity to the dead.
Some of the important recommendations, among others, are:
Enact specific legislation to protect the rights of the dead ;it should be the duty of every citizen to inform, after noticing any incident of death, immediately to the nearest police station and/or to emergency ambulance services or the administrative/ legal authorities, whichever feasible;
Each State must maintain a district wise digital dataset of death cases;
Death of a person must be simultaneously updated in all documents such as Bank Account, Aadhar Card, Insurance etc.,
The Police administration should ensure that there is no undue delay in post mortem;
The Hospital administration should be explicitly prohibited from deliberately retaining any dead body on the count of pending bill payment; the unclaimed bodies must be stored under safe conditions;
The local authorities should ensure that the transportation facilities are available to transport the body of the deceased at the request of family members and the arbitrary hike of ambulance charges is curbed;
The CSOs/NGOs should come forward to take up the responsibility of performing last rites of the unclaimed and unattended bodies in dignified manner;
Set-up temporary crematoriums; religious rituals that do not require touching of the dead body may be allowed such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water etc.;
In cases where the repatriation of the body to the family may not be possible, the State/ Local Administration may perform the last rites of the body, taking into account the religious/ cultural factors;
Piling up of dead bodies during the transportation or at any other place must not be allowed to happen. Encourage use of electric crematoriums; Mass burial/ cremation should not be allowed to take place as it is in violation of the right to dignity of the dead;
Staff handling dead bodies including those at crematoriums/ burial grounds should be provided protective gear along with the vaccination on priority and they should be fairly paid.