NHRC to Centre & State: Enact Special Law to protect rights and dignity of deceased

Kriti Agrawal

In the aftermath of reports of suspected mishandling bodies of Covid-19 victims, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued advice to the Centre and all states and Union Territories outlining a number of recommendations for respecting the dignity and rights of the dead. 

The NHRC said in a statement that the proposals include creating special law to protect the rights of the deceased, and that mass burial or cremation should not be allowed to take place as it is a breach of the dead’s right to dignity.

The Commission asserted that Article 21 of the Constitution applies not only to living people but also to the dead, saying that “It is the duty of the State to defend the rights of the deceased and prohibit crime over the dead body.” Although there is no explicit law in India guaranteeing the rights of the deceased.

The NHRC pointed out that there are multiple international covenants, Supreme Court and High Court Judgments, and instructions issued by various governments from time to time underlining the importance of adhering to the Covid-19 protocol and providing proper burial/cremation in accordance with individual religious customs and practices.

The use of electric crematoriums should be encouraged in order to prevent the health risks associated with the large-scale emission of smoke from burning pyres, piling up of remains during transit or in any other location should be prohibited, and mass burial/cremation should be prohibited since it violates the dead’s right to dignity.

Not limited to Covid-19 victims, the human rights agency requested that the Centre and states maintain a district-by-district digital dataset of (all) death cases, for which a dynamic website be built.

The digital confirmation of all Covid-19 or non-Covid19 deaths must be updated concurrently in all papers such as bank accounts, Aadhar Cards, insurance, and so on, wherever relevant, to prevent any impersonation or unlawful monetary transaction.

The NHRC further advised that correct corpse identification be done using several criteria for identification, and that state authorities ensure correct processing of information concerning the dead and missing in catastrophes.

NHRC lastly stated that ambulance overcharging must be regulated and that workers in charge of such vehicles must be adequately compensated.

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