NEW DELHI: The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has moved the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in a plea filed by a Mumbai resident opposing burial of people dying of COVID-19 in a graveyard near his residence.
Mumbai-resident Pradeep Ghandy has approached the apex court after his plea, made on the ground that burial of COVID-19 patients in the graveyard in Bandra West would spread infection in adjoining areas, was rejected by the Bombay High Court on April 27.
Ghandy's plea challenging the high court order will come up for hearing on May 4 before a bench of Justices RF Nariman and Indira Banerjee.
The Muslim body, while seeking intervention in the appeal filed by Ghandy, said that apprehension of burial of bodies of those infected with COVID-19 will risk the spread of such infection in the vicinity is unfounded and that at the outset there is no risk of spreading of the COVID-19 virus during such burial.
"It is submitted that the burial of dead bodies is essential to the religion of Islam as well as in other religions such as Christianity. Such a right forms part of the right to practice one's religion under Article 25 of the Constitution of India," the plea said.
The Muslim body said that it is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true and cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources. "It has further been clarified that till date there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from COVID-19," the plea said.
The petition of Jamiat said that the entire grievance of the petitioner is based on the apprehension that burial of those persons who were infected with COVID-19 would risk the spread of such infection in the neighbouring areas, which includes the residence of the petitioner herein. "It is submitted that such a fear is completely unfounded and unsupported by advisories issued by the Government of India as well as by the World Health Organization," it said.
The plea said that it is evident from the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as by the WHO, burial does not pose any additional risk of COVID-19 and all the precautions that have been prescribed are to prevent the contact of any bodily fluid of the dead person with those who are handling the body.
"It is further relevant to note that even USA, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and the Middle Eastern nations are burying those persons who have died due to COVID 19 and no such increased risk of spread of COVID-19 virus has been highlighted by these nations due to the act of burying the dead bodies," the plea said.
The Muslim body said that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had on March 15 issued detailed guidelines regarding dead body management in the times of COVID-19 which categorically provide that the main driver of transmission of the said virus is through droplets and that there is unlikely to be an increased risk of COVID infection from a dead body to health workers or family members who follow standard precautions while handling body.
It said that even the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued an interim guidance dated March 24, dealing with the issue of burial of bodies of those patients who died due to COVID-19.
"It has been clarified in the said interim guidance that except in cases of haemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease," the plea said.
On April 27, the High Court had refused to grant relief on a plea challenging Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) permission to use cemetery in Bandra to bury bodies of COVID-19 victims.
The petition, filed by Gandhy and others, living near the Konkani Muslim Kabrastan in suburban Bandra, claimed that locals were afraid of community spread of the virus, if the burial is not done properly.