The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed pleas by residents seeking cancellation of permission by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to bury bodies of COVID-19 victims at Bandra (West) Kabaristan. 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.
The court 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.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S S Shinde passed a ruling on Friday through videoconference in pleas filed by Pradeep Gandhy and others through advocate D P Singh on April 14. The HC on April 27, had refused to grant an interim relief to the petitioners
The HC had also directed the BMC to remove locks put up on the gates of the cemetery ground by local residents with the help of Police. The locks were put up on April 13 after residents held a protest against burial of dead body at the cemetery ground. After HC refused relief, the petitioners moved Supreme Court with a special leave petition and the top court on May 4 directed the HC to dispose of pleas within two weeks.
The residents in their pleas 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 March 30, COVID-19 patients cannot be buried near residential areas. On April 13, a body was brought for burial at the Kabaristan. However, after local residents protested, the authorities did not bury the body, the plea, filed through advocate D P Singh, added.
“They (residents) are moving the HC in extreme urgency, as they fear that burial of dead bodies of COVID-19 victims will have large implications and would lead to community spread,” it said.
The plea alleged that BMC’s decision to use the Kabaristan to bury bodies of COVID-19 patients had led local residents to protest, as the burial ground shares a wall with a residential area near G7 multiplex on Lane 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. Petitioners had not placed any scientific reasoning to show that coronavirus spreads through dead bodies.
On May 19, senior counsel for BMC, Anil Sakhare, opposed the plea 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 bound and hence transmission of the virus to other people staying in the vicinity of the burial ground is highly impossible.”
It added, “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 court accepted BMC’s submissions and also asked the civic body 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.
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