According to Live Law, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case seeking laws to protect the rights of the dead following allegations of bodies being discarded in the Ganga river during the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak. The court, on the other hand, acknowledged that there was a major issue.
However, the petitioners were allowed to approach the National Human Rights Commission instead by the Division Bench of Justice Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta.
What does the court have to say?
The Supreme Court said on Monday, while hearing a petition on the design of rules to protect the rights of the dead, that the horrible sight of dead bodies floating on the River Ganga - an all-too-common sight last month during the peak of the second Covid wave - is a "real problem."
These recommendations, which were released last month, included creating "special legislation to defend the rights of the dead" as well as the establishment of temporary crematoriums.
The petitioner had asked the Supreme Court for assistance in developing policies to protect the rights of the dead, including action against overcharging for cremating COVID-19 victims.
The petitioner, a non-governmental organization called Distress Management Collective, refers to the hundreds of bodies dumped in the Ganga in May by persons who died of Covid. Hundreds of bodies of probable coronavirus patients began washing up along the Ganga's banks in early May, at the peak of the second wave, when (supposedly) 3,000-4,000 Covid-related deaths were reported every day.
"You have referred to some recommendations of NHRC and NHRC was asked to respond," the Supreme Court said. "You go to the NHRC. How many forums will you approach? You have already approached High Court, High Court gave a direction, NHRC has interfered."
"Mr. Raju, there is nothing happening now also. The problem you are raising is serious problem we agree, but luckily the situation is not that now.”
What caused the petition?
It was suspected that the bodies were those of Covid victims from rural areas, where villagers, fearful of the virus spreading further, threw the dead into the river Ganga due to a lack of regulations.
The initial wave of bodies was quickly followed by dozens more every day, causing a public health alarm and, unsurprisingly, a political blame game between the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Locals were terrified and enraged, blaming both states. "Ambulance drivers from both UP and Bihar dump bodies over," claimed Arvind Singh, a resident.
There were also allegations - refuted by the government - that people were discarding the dead due to the exorbitant amounts of cremation firewood.
Worse, in addition to remains being placed in the Ganga, dead were soon being recovered from shallow, hastily-dug graves along the river's edge, burials that also led to grave-robbing sightings.
Mid-May, the central government intervened, ordering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to stop dumping dead and instead focus on dignified cremation and safe disposal of the remains.
Plea for Removal of bodies from River Ganga
In the midst of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court asking the Centre and four states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to take prompt action to remove the bodies found floating in the Ganga.
The plea, which cited accounts of bodies floating in the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, asked the Supreme Court to set instructions or develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the proper and dignified cremation or burial of victims of the coronavirus in accordance with the rites.
The plea, filed by the Youth Bar Association of India, requested that the Chief Secretaries and District Magistrates guarantee that no dead body is allowed to be thrown in any river or on any land and that the perpetrators be prosecuted.
It stated that the Ganga starts in Uttarakhand and runs down to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal and that floating bodies in the river would be hazardous to the ecosystem as well as a violation of the National Mission for Clean Ganga's rules.
The authorities should be required to take adequate measures to ensure that bodies are removed from the Ganga and other waterways, according to the petition.
"In both natural and unnatural death, i.e., suicide, accident, homicide, etc. it is the State which is vested with the duty to protect the rights of the deceased and to prevent the crime over the dead bodies," it said.