Allahabad High Court

Allahabad High Court: The Division Bench of Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh, JJ. took suo motu cognizance of a PIL which was in relation with the Rights to Decent And Dignified Last Rites/Cremation.

The Court in Suo-Moto v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1088 while dealing with the extremely sensitive matter of Hathras gangrape where dead body of the victim was taken to her native village but surprisingly and painfully enough it was not handed over to the family members so that the last rites of the deceased victim could be performed as per prevalent customs and religious inclinations in a decent and dignified manner but it was cremated with the help of some other persons at about 2- 2.30 a.m. The Court had directed the Senior Registrar of this Court at Lucknow to register a suo motu Public Interest Litigation with the title “In Re : Right to decent and dignified last rites/cremation” and place it before the appropriate Bench having jurisdiction to hear Public Interest Litigations.

The right of dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is not only available to a living person but also to the ‘dead’. These rights are not only for the deceased but, his family members also have a right to perform last rites as per religious traditions.

The State Government placed a Scheme/Standard Operating Procedure (‘SOP’) for cremation of dead bodies. The Court perused the SOP and suggested that:

1. The relevant communication made through E-mail or Whatsapp should be preserved for a reasonable period, of say, one year and, if during this period any legal proceeding before the Court of law or any other Forum are initiated in respect of the events mentioned therein, then, the same shall not be weeded out till disposal of such proceedings so as to avoid unnecessary complications and further litigation.

2. The disposal of bodies consequent to a pandemic is a separate issue which should be kept aloof from the Scheme under consideration which primarily relates to cremation of bodies generally and as a consequence of accidents or any crime, except to the extent if the cremation of such body consequent to an accident or crime is of a person who was affected by any such disease in connection with pandemic/ epidemic, then, the guidelines for cremation of such bodies as applicable during pandemic/epidemic would prevail over the scheme/SOP in question.

3. The Officers and employees under the State who are to be involved in cremation of such bodies should be sensitized and counselled to follow the scheme/SOP strictly and in a manner so as to achieve the object rather than to defeat it. The observance and adherence to the scheme/SOP should not be an eye-wash nor an empty formality. The letter and spirit of the scheme/SOP is paramount as it touches upon valuable constitutional and fundamental rights.

The State was directed to publicize the Scheme/SOP and ensure that it is adhered throughout the State of Uttar Pradesh. State has to make sure that the Scheme/SOP is spread wide across the Police Stations, Hospitals, Primary Health Centers, District Headquarters, Tehsil, Collectorate, etc. so that the Stakeholders are aware of these Scheme/SOP after being notified.

The State applauded the efforts of amicus curiae and officials of the State for coming up with such Scheme/SOP so that in future such disputes and complications do not arise.

[Suo-Moto Inre Right To Decent And Dignified Last Rites/Cremat v. State of U.P.,  2022 SCC OnLine All 527, decided on 05-08-2022]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Abhinav Bhattacharya, Ajit Singh, Anjani Kumar Mishra, Ashish Kumar Agarwal, Atul K. Singh, Atul Kumar Singh, Digvijay Singh Yadav, Jaideep Narain Mathur (Ac, Nadeem Murtaza, Onkar Singh,Pradeep Kumar Singh, Seema Kushwaha, Sharad Bhatnagar, Advocates, Counsel for the Petitioner;

C.S.C.,A. S, G., Anurag Kumar Singh, Ashok Shukla, Dr. Ravi Kumar Mishra, Manjusha, Pranjal Krishna, Satyaveer Singh, Advocates, Counsel for the Respondent.

*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

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