HC asks MEA official to coordinate with Saudi Embassy to facilitate repatriation of buried body

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New Delhi, Mar 18 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials to coordinate with the Deputy Chief of Missions of Saudi Embassy here to facilitate the exhumation and repatriation of the remains of a Hindu man, an Indian citizen, who was wrongly buried in Saudi Arabia as per Muslim rites.

The high court also requested the Deputy Chief of Mission to obtain some timeline within which the process of exhumation and repatriation of the body would be completed.

Justice Prathiba M Singh said, 'You can say it is a request from the court. Considering the sensitivity... you can put it to them.' 'In view of the fact that the timelines are not able to be given by MEA official appearing today, in order to emphasis on the sensitivity of the issue, the MEA official shall also coordinate/communicate with Deputy Chief of Missions, Saudi Arabia located in New Delhi and inform the fact that this court also seeks the same,' the judge said and listed the matter for further hearing on March 24.

The court was hearing a case in which the mortal remains of the Hindu man were wrongly buried in Saudi Arabia as per Muslim rites due to incorrect translation of his religion on death certificate purportedly by Indian Consulate officials in Jeddah.

The deceased's wife, who had been running from pillar to post to get the mortal remains, approached the high court seeking direction to the MEA to take steps to urgently exhume the remains and repatriate them to India in a time bound manner.

Pursuant to the March 16 order, Director of Consulate Passport Visa, MEA appeared before the court and said there was no clarity on the timeline within which the body could be brought back to India and also assured the court that the matter was being followed up by them.

The officer said that as per the existing protocol in Saudi Arabia, an Indian citizen's body cannot be disposed of without obtaining an NOC from the Indian Consulate. However, in this case, the procedure was not followed, he said.

He said it could have happened because of COVID-19 and that the body was buried in a 'non-Muslim cemetery'.

The court noted that the victim's employer in Saudi Arabia has sent the compensation cheque of Rs 4.68 lakh and it may be collected by the family from District Collector, Una in Himachal Pradesh.

It also said the Indian Consulate may assist the petitioner woman with regard to any monetary benefits that she may get from the employer.

The man, Sanjeev Kumar, died on January 24 in Saudi Arabia, where he was working, due to cardiac arrest and his mortal remains were kept at a hospital there.

Petitioner Anju Sharma said in the plea that on getting the news of her husband's death, the family requested the authorities to repatriate the mortal remains.

'Shockingly, on February 18, the petitioner was informed that the body of her husband has been buried in Saudi Arabia while the family members of the deceased were waiting for the mortal remains in India.

'The officials in Indian Consulate explained that it was due to a mistake committed by the official translator of Indian Consulate, Jeddah, who wrongly mentioned his religion as 'Muslim' in the death certificate. They also shared a letter of apology tendered by the official translating agency of Indian Consulate in Jeddah with the petitioner herein,' said the petition, filed through advocate Subhash Chandran K R and Yogamaya M G.

It also said that neither the woman, nor any of the family members gave consent to bury Kumar’s body in Saudi Arabia.

Thereafter, the woman requested the officials of Indian Consulate in Jeddah to ask the local authorities there to exhume the mortal remains of her husband so that they can be transported to India for performing last rites as per the faith of the family.

'Unfortunately, even after seven weeks of the death of the husband of petitioner, the authorities have failed to do necessary formalities to repatriate the mortal remains of Sanjeev Kumar to India for performing last rites,' the plea said.

It also sought direction to the Centre to take appropriate departmental actions against concerned officials of Indian Consulate at Jeddah for their willful negligence and also direct the authorities to do appropriate actions for obtaining a corrected death certificate of the deceased and supply the document to his wife. PTI SKV AAR