Bombay HC upholds BMC’s power to identify cemeteries for burying Covid-19 victims
A Bombay bench said there was no scientific material supporting the petitioners’ apprehension that coronavirus can spread through cadavers.
The Bombay High Court on Friday said the Brihanmumabi Municipal Corporation, BMC, had the authority to identify Muslim cemeteries for burial of Covid-19 victims and issue circular regarding it.
A division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice SS Shinde dismissed a petition filed by four Bandra residents challenging the validity of the BMC circular of April 9, 2020, which identified some Muslim cemeteries in thickly- populated areas for burying those who died of the coronavirus disease.
The petitioners had moved high court complaining that three inter-connected Muslim cemeteries identified for burial of Covid-19 victims were in the heart of Bandra west, surrounded by thickly-populated residential areas. They contended that there were high chances of spread of coronavirus from the burial ground in nearby residential areas. All the four petitioners reside in the vicinity of the private Muslim cemeteries.
However, the HC bench said there was no scientific material supporting the petitioners’ apprehension that coronavirus can spread through cadavers.
In their plea, the petitioners had said the BMC on March 30 decided to cremate bodies of all Covid-19 victims at the nearest crematorium, irrespective of their religion. “The said decision was taken as the burial grounds in Mumbai are in densely-populated localities, with high chances of contamination in residential areas nearby,” said their petition.
They added that the subsequent circular of April 9 was, however, completely contrary to the March 30 decision and therefore prayed for an order restraining the civic body from burying any Covid-19 victim in the three Muslim cemeteries.
The state government, however, maintained that burial at the cemeteries was unlikely to spread the deadly virus in the vicinity of the burial ground.
“It is well established and declared by the World Health Organisation that coronavirus is not air bound and hence transmission of the virus to other people staying in the vicinity of the burial ground is highly impossible,” said the government.
“The transmission cannot happen unless people in the locality come in direct contact with the dead body brought for burial or cremation,” it said, adding, “Direct contact of people staying in the locality with dead body is impossible as the dead body is wrapped in plastic by hospital staff before handing it over to the relatives for cremation.”
The Mumbai civic body supported the government, stating WHO guidelines on bodies of Covid-19 patients “clearly stipulate that except in cases of haemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Other than the above, cadavers DO NOT transmit the disease.”
The Mumbai HC bench accepted the submissions of the state and BMC, said advocate Pratap Nimbalkar, who represented the Navpada Masjid, Bandra and Santacruz Golibar Dargah Trust which manages the private Muslim cemeteries.
The bench said there was no scientific material supporting the petitioner’s apprehension that coronavirus will spread through cadavers, Nimbalkar added. Besides, the bench also noted that the civic chief was legally empowered to issue the circular and identify cemeteries for burial of Muslims dying due to coronavirus infection.