HC decides to monitor disposal of COVID-19 bodies

New Delhi, Jun 2 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said it would be monitoring implementation of the AAP government's recent order on disposal of bodies of those who died of COVID-19.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said that it wants to see how the Delhi government health department's May 30 direction regarding disposal of COVID-19 dead has worked at the ground level.

Delhi government additional standing counsel Sanjoy Ghose, who appeared for the health department, said that the court particularly wanted to see whether the May 30 order has worked with regard to bodies of those who died on May 31 and June 1.

Ghose also said that the court asked the Delhi government to file an updated status report two days before the next date of hearing on June 15.

The May 30 order of the Health department has fixed the responsibility, for timely disposal of the COVID-19 positive/suspect dead bodies, on the Medical Director/ Director of the hospital where a patient died or was brought dead.

'Respective municipal corporation shall make all the arrangements to cremate/bury such dead bodies,' the order also said.

Some other directions contained in the order are that body of a COVID-19 positive/suspect patient be sent to mortuary within 2 hours of death in hospital or brought dead there and if family or relatives of the deceased contact mortuary within 12 hours, then hospital shall schedule the cremation/burial within next 24 hours.

If no family member or relative gets in touch with mortuary in 12 hours, an intimation shall be sent to them through the area SHO regarding the date, time and place of cremation/burial so that they can attend the funeral.

'The hospital must fix date and time in such a way that an effective notice of 24 hours is available to family/relatives,' the department's order also said.

In case of unidentified bodies of COVID positive/suspect persons, Delhi Police has been directed by the health department to complete all legal formalities within 72 hours of death and dispose of the body in next 24 hours.

The court was hearing a PIL initiated by it on its own after coming across news reports that there was a lack of facilities to cremate those who died due to COVID-19 and the bodies were piling up in the mortuaries.

An anguished high court had said if this was the correct situation then it was 'highly dissatisfactory and violative of the rights of the dead'.

The court had said it was pained at the state of affairs as reported in newspapers on Thursday, May 28.

The news reports had said that the backlog in disposal of bodies was due to non-functioning of CNG furnaces at Nigambodh and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums.

On Friday, May 29, the Delhi government had informed the court that urgent steps were taken to remedy the situation, including that LNJP Hospital being authorised to divert bodies to crematoriums at Panchkuian and Punjab Bagh, as opposed to only Nigambodh Ghat.

The Delhi government also told the court that it has now authorised wood-fired traditional cremations, in addition to electric and CNG furnaces, providing personal protection (PPE) kits for all workers at crematorium and bodies and the working hours of crematoriums are extended to 7AM-10 PM from existing 9 AM - 4 PM.

It had further said that the situation, based on which the court had initiated the suo motu proceedings, was a result of unavoidable circumstances like reduced capacity of Nigambodh Ghat to handle bodies on account of snags in furnaces, workers at crematorium refusing to handle COVID-19 deceased, sudden spike in coronavirus cases and related deaths in Delhi and relatives refusing to come forward to claim bodies.   On Monday, June 1, Delhi government filed an affidavit stating that it has stopped testing the dead for COVID-19 and because of this the relatives are not claiming the bodies of those suspected to have died of the virus, leading to delays in their disposal.

Another reason given for delay in disposal of the bodies was social stigma attached with the disease and fear of quarantine.

The government also said that the subject occurrence was a one-time event occurring on account of unavoidable circumstances and all steps are being taken to avoid it in the future.

The affidavit further said that another reason for delay in disposal of bodies was that relatives were misinformed that the hospital will dispose of the bodies, whereas the hospital is only a facilitator and the bodies have to be claimed by the victim's kin.

Some bodies have not been claimed for the reason that the relatives are from outside Delhi and no formal consent for disposal has been received, it said. PTI HMP SKV SA