Srinagar: “We are of the opinion that the religious sentiments of the family members have been sufficiently taken care of by the government,” the J&K High Court on Thursday said and disposed of a plea on the matter of performing of last rites of Covid-19 infected people by their family members.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul expressed hope that the authorities will strictly abide by the Covid-19 guidelines on dead body management and “would not cause any harassment to the next of kin of any person dying due to Covid-19 in viewing the face of the deceased and in allowing them to perform the last rites in the manner laid down.”
The court directed that the dead body has to be carried to the cremation/ burial ground in a secured bag by the authorities for the performance of the last rites which shall ordinarily be in the presence of the relatives.
Earlier, the Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Directorate General of Health Service (EMR Division), had issued Covid-19 guidelines on dead body management.
The guidelines inter alia provide for standard precautions to be followed by health care workers while handling dead bodies of Covid patients, the manner of removal of the dead body from the isolation centre, handling of the dead body in mortuary, transportation and cremation.
The guidelines say that ordinarily, autopsy on Covid-19 dead bodies is not necessary and for special reason if it is to be performed, the procedure prescribed has to be followed.
They further provide that the dead body should be secured in a body bag and its handling should follow standard precautions and the vehicle after transfer of the body to the cremation/ burial place be decontaminated with 1% Sodium Hypochlorite.
“The cremation/ burial ground including the staff should be sanitised and the staff should take all standard precautions of hand hygiene, use of masks and gloves,” the guidelines say.
The cremation/ burial is supposed to be in the presence of the close relatives and the viewing of the face by unzipping or opening the body bag is permissible so that the relatives may not only see the body for the last time but perform rituals such as reading from religious scriptures, sprinkling of holy water and other last rites that does not require touching of the body.
“However, bathing, kissing, hugging of the dead body would not be allowed. Since the ashes do not pose any risk, they can be collected for performing any other rituals or the last rites,” the guidelines say.
The court was also informed that a maximum of 20 relatives are permitted while performing last rites of the deceased.
The court after going through the guidelines said, “We are of the opinion that the religious sentiments of the family members have been sufficiently taken care of by the government.”
The court underscored that the MoHFW has framed the guidelines in consultation with the experts dealing with Covid-19 pandemic.
“As such, if the guidelines do not permit handing over of the dead body specifically to the next of the kin 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,” the court pointed out.
The court held that it is to be borne in mind that the 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.