The National Human Rights Commission, India, released an advisory to the Centre and States for upholding the dignity and rights of the deceased, in light of a significant number of deaths and stories in the media about the mismanagement/mishandling of Covid-19 affected dead bodies.
This Advisory is also noteworthy in light of the NHRC notices released yesterday to the Centre, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh governments in response to a report regarding floating dead bodies in the Ganga River.
The National Human Rights Commission has issued an advisory to the Centre and States to ensure the dignity and rights of the dead. The NHRC's notifications to the Centre, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh governments regarding floating dead bodies in the Ganga River lend weight to the advisory.
The Commission has said:
"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 has asked that the Union Home Secretary, Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary, and the Chief Secretaries/ Administrators of States and Union Territories enact the Commission's recommendations in the Advisory and the action taken report within four weeks in a letter written by its Secretary-General, Mr. Bimbadhar Pradhan.
The Commission has also observed:
"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."
Importantly, the Commission has made broad guidelines for extending respect to the deceased to various stakeholders in society, including governments, judiciary, administration, local bodies, hospitals, medical professionals, jail authorities, civil society, media, and communities.
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 a 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 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.