Mumbai, May 23:
The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed pleas by residents seeking cancellation of permission given by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to bury bodies of COVID-19 victims at Bandra (West) Kabaristan located in North West Mumbai.
Disposing of the petition filed by Pradeep Gandhi and others, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S S Shinde, passed a ruling through videoconference, in which it observed that there was no scientific data to support the claim that COVID-19 can spread through dead bodies and that the BMC had all the authority to demarcate the cemetery. The court said that the case was fit for ‘exemplary costs’ but avoided to impose it on petitioners due to a pandemic situation and said that the plea was filed in panic.
The petition was filed by the petitioner, through advocate D P Singh in the Bombay high court on April 14. When it came for hearing on 27 April, the court refused to grant an interim relief to the petitioners and also directed the BMC to remove locks put up on the gates of the cemetery ground by local residents with the help of Police on 13 April, protesting against the burial of dead body at the cemetery. After HC refused relief, the petitioners moved Supreme Court with a special leave petition and the apex court on 4 May returned the petition to the HC with instructions that the petition be disposed of within two weeks.
The residents had claimed that permitting the use of the burial ground in Bandra (West) to bury COVID-19 victims will lead to community spread. They had claimed that the burial ground is located in the heart of Bandra (West), next to their residences, and as per the revised circular issued by BMC on 30 March 2020, COVID-19 patients cannot be buried near residential areas. On 13 April, a body was brought for burial at the cemetery. However, after the residents protested, the authorities did not bury the body.
The petitioners had pointed out that the burial ground shared a common wall with a residential area near G7 multiplex on V P Varde Marg off Turner Road. However, advocate Pratap Nimbalkar appearing for Kabaristan Trustees, had opposed the plea and said that due process was followed before disposing of the bodies and that the petitioners had not placed any scientific reasoning to show that COVID-19 spreads through dead bodies.
On 19 May, a senior counsel for BMC, Anil Sakhare, also opposed the petitioners’ argument and submitted an affidavit in reply saying burial of the victims cannot lead to spread of virus in adjoining areas. The BMC reply stated, “It is well established and declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) that Covid-19 virus is not “air borne” and hence transmission of the virus to other people staying in the vicinity of the burial ground is highly impossible.”
”The transmission cannot happen unless people in the locality come in direct contact with the body brought for burial or cremation. Direct contact of people staying in the locality with a body is impossible, as it is wrapped in plastic by hospital staff before handing it over to relatives for the last rites”, the BMC stated.
The court accepted BMC’s submissions and asked it to strictly follow WHO and Central government guidelines on burial of COVID-19 positive bodies and said that the civic body can add or delete demarcated cemeteries as per the law and guidelines.
Raju Vernekar is a Media Professional based in Mumbai and is a regular contributor of Imphal Times. He had served as Chief Reporter at Free Press Journal (1996 – 2015 ). His Activities includes writing for different news papers, script writing/production for TV channels, Films Division. Writing poems in Marathi, Hindi, English, Guiding mass media students and helping people to solve their problems. Raju may be contacted at [email protected]
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