Courts Update Indian legal system protects a decedent's interests: NHRC

Indian legal system protects a decedent’s interests: NHRC

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New Delhi, May 15 (ILNS) Keeping in view the large number of deaths during the second wave of COVID-19 and challenges in management of dead bodies, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has said that the legal system of the country strives to honour a decedent’s wishes and to protect his interests.

The Commission issued an Advisory yesterday, directing the states and Union Territories of the country to uphold the dignity and Rights of the deceased persons.

According to the Advisory, there is no specific law in India for protecting the rights of the dead. However, the courts have time and again reiterated to uphold the dignity and protect the rights of the dead.

The Commission said the apex court in the landmark case of Parmanand Katara vs Union of India in 1989 recognised that the right to life, fair treatment and dignity extend not only to a living person, but also to his dead body. These rights have been derived from Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, recognition of posthumous legal rights gives the dead significant moral standing within the legal system. The law also strives to honour a decedent’s wishes and to protect his interests, it added.

In both natural or unnatural deaths (accident, suicide, homicide), it is the duty of the state to protect the rights of the deceased and prevent crime over the body.

It is also a requirement that the States/ UTs prepare a SOP in consultation with all the stakeholders, so that the dignity of the dead is ensured and their rights are protected. The stakeholders include Hospital Administration, Police, Forensic Medicine personnel, District Administration, Municipal Corporation and Civil Society Groups, as well as the citizens of the country, the Advisory stated.

The Recommendations made by the NHRC are as follows:-

  1. Enact specific legislation to protect the rights of dead: There is a need for specific legislation to be enacted for the purpose of upholding the dignity and protecting the rights of the dead.
  2. Set-up temporary crematoriums: In view of the large number of COVID deaths and long queue of dead bodies seen at crematoriums, temporary arrangements should be made urgently in order to avoid undue delay in cremation.
  3. Sensitisation of the staff working in crematoriums/ burial grounds/ cemeteries: In order to ensure that dignity is upheld during handling of dead bodies, the cremation/ burial ground staff must be sensitized about proper handling of the dead body. Further, they need to be provided necessary safety equipment and facilities so that they may perform their duty efficiently without any fear or risk.
  4. Performing last rites: Religious rituals that do not require touching of the dead body may be allowed such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water, etc.
  5. In cases where the family members are not in a position to perform last rites: In cases where family members or relatives are not there to perform last rites as they themselves may be infected or are not willing being afraid of getting infected, etc., or 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.
  6. Encourage use of electric crematoriums: Use of electric crematoriums may be encouraged in order to avoid the health hazards emerging from the emission of smoke from burning pyres in large number.
  7. Piling of dead bodies: Piling up of dead bodies during the transportation or at any other place must not be allowed to happen.
  8. Mass burial/ cremation: Mass burial/ cremation should not be allowed to take place as it is in violation of the right to dignity of the dead.
  9. Proper identification and information: Accurate identification of the dead body must be aimed by using different criteria for identification and the State Authorities must ensure proper handling of the information about the dead and missing persons in disasters.
  10. Curbing arbitrary hike of ambulance charges: To curb arbitrary hike/ overcharging for transportation of dead bodies the prices of the hearse / ambulance services should be regulated so that people are not exploited and do not face difficulties in transportation of dead bodies.
  11. Staff handling dead bodies to be protected and fairly paid: Since the staff at crematoriums, burial grounds, mortuaries, etc., are working round the clock during this wave of pandemic, they may be paid fair wages to compensate their hard work. Further, they should be vaccinated on priority basis keeping in view the risk they are exposed to.

“All the Concerned Authorities of the Union/State Government/UT’s are requested to implement the recommendation made in the Advisory and submit the report about the action taken/ proposed to be taken on the Advisory, within four weeks to the Commission,” read the Advisory signed by Bimbadhar Pradhan, Secretary General of NHRC. ILNS/KR/RJ

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