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STUDENTS' COUNSEL: Two law students file PIL in Patna High Court upon floating dead-bodies in Ganga!

Priya Ghosh

Intern, Constitutional Rights Initiative

A PIL has been filed in the Hon’ble Patna High Court by Anupam Prabhat Shrivastava and Sudeep Chandra, two law students hailing from Bihar. This petition is being advocated by the team of Advocates from Legal Angles Patna under the Students Counsel Program (a project co-powered by Constitutional Rights Initiative-Legal Angles Patna). Priya Ghosh interviewed these young petitioners on behalf of Legal Angles Patna.

Sudeep & Anupam

Tell us briefly about yourselves?

Anupam: Hi, I am Anupam. I am a final year law student from Central University of South Bihar,Gaya.

Sudeep: Hi, I am Sudeep. I am a second year law student from Uttaranchal University, Dehradoon.

What intrigued you to file this PIL?

Anupam: The condition of Covid-19 in Bihar is no mystery to all. The situation is worst all around in Bihar. Many people in my connection lost their near and dear ones and therefore it nullifies the claim of the government of the stable situation.

Sudeep: The second surge of coronavirus has wreaked havoc in Bihar, with Patna being the worst hit- witnessing the maximum number of daily cases and casualties. As per the last medical bulletin, out of 12,604 new coronavirus cases across Bihar. Bihar is clearly witnessing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. As many as 125,451 new cases have been registered in the past week. And though the number of recovered patients in this period is a strong 94,272, Bihar still has a caseload of 107,667. In the space of a month, the Covid positivity rate--the ratio of the number of positive cases to total tests conducted, and a measure of the scale of an outbreak--has gone from 1.2% on April 2 to 9.4% on May 2. It has largely hovered around 12.1% in the last one week. The number of active cases is also much higher than the peak of 32,725 active cases during the first Covid wave last year.

What is your opinion on the current situation in Bihar?

Anupam:The government is publishing a wrong report on the death rate in Bihar due to Covid-19. The crematoriums and graveyards are flooded with dead bodies. If we go around the crematoriums and graveyards, this picture is quite clear and different from what the government is publishing. This is wrong. Government is not reporting the actual numbers of death due to Covid 19 and this may affect the kin of those dead people at the time when the government shall give some kind of benefits or any _ex gratia_ amount for them. The unreported death due to Covid-19 cannot claim such benefits and there will be no way left out other than to go to the Court for availing their rights. And it doesn't look convenient.

Moreover, it is also a matter of fact that it becomes the duty of the government and Right of the People to get true certified information being placed out by the government in the public domain.

Sudeep: The second wave of Covid-19 is infecting and killing more people in the 20-50 years age group compared to the first wave last year when most of those who fell victim to the virus were either senior citizens or had comorbidities. The nodal officer for Covid at AIIMS-Patna, also admitted that 80% of the mortality rate due to the coronavirus is among the people aged between 20 and 45. “Fifteen people died at the hospital in the past one week and only two of them were above the age of 60. Even most of the infected patients admitted at the hospital are young. Last year, senior citizens were more vulnerable to the disease,” he said. Bihar has reported the most number of deaths of doctors in the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Altogether 90 doctors from Bihar have lost their lives till now in the second wave of the pandemic out over 280 doctors across the country so far as per Indian Medical Association (IMA).

After death what's the condition of the cremation procedure of the dead body regarding the funerals or disposal of dead bodies?

Anupam:People are facing problems in performing the last rites of the deceased. Crematoriums have no wood for performing the last rites of those dead bodies. Wood for the funeral are being sold at a very high prices. In the name of performing last rites, people are paying a lot huge money for funerals. People who are not able to pay are disbarred from performing the last rites. After this, the government of Bihar passed order on 28.04.2021as no one will be charged any money for their last rites and all expenses shall be taken care of by the government. But still, people are being charged for performing the last rites. From 10.05.2021 till today, we have many incidents of finding bloated and decomposed dead bodies in Ganga River. It has endangered the life of the people who are directly and indirectly dependent on Ganga River for their lives and livelihood. Moreover the people living nearby it are in great fear of getting infected from Corona Virus. Thus the situation is more pathetic than expected.

Sudeep: During this time, Although burials or cremations should take place in a timely manner and in accordance with local practices, funeral ceremonies that do not involve the disposal of the body should be postponed, if possible, until the end of the epidemic. If a ceremony is held, the number of participants should be kept to a minimum. Participants should observe physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, local mask wearing requirements, and hand hygiene at all times.The new interim guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on dead body management during COVID-19 eases restrictions on attending the funeral of a near and dear one, says embalming or preserving of the corpse is not recommended since there is a risk of getting into contact with body secretions and air during the process. But at the same time At least 71 bodies have been fished out of Ganga river in Bihar’s Buxar district, where a large number of bloated and partially decomposed bodies were found floating in the river on 10th may 2021, triggering panic among locals and widespread outrage.

Are the dead people and their respective bodies have the dignity to get disposed of as according to their religion or not?

Anupam: Of course, the deceased too have their dignity to get funeral as per their religion and custom. India is a land of religion, customs and beliefs. Funeral is the only way to get Moksh. And if this right is being taken away by the government/hospitals/any body else then this is absolutely wrong and it becomes infringement of their rights. These dead bodies too have the dignity to get funeral in the matter prescribed by their religion, custom and belief. If the government has taken the duty to do so then they have to do it without any excuse. But many incidents are being reported where many bloated and decomposed dead bodies are found floating in river Ganga. Some hospital staffs were caught on camera for throwing away the dead body in the river of Katihar. News reported that the dead bodies which are not burnt at whole in the crematoriums are thrown away in the river. This is totally against the right and dignity of the deceased. Not only the living human beings but also the deceased too have some rights in some aspects. Thus it challenges the very fundamental right of religion.

Sudeep: These incidents raise serious concern as the river water is the freshwater source for many people living in those areas. They said that if the bodies were infected with the coronavirus, it might spread in the villages of both states.“The states till now have not taken any single effective step towards the purification of water, which has become contaminated due to these decomposed corpses floating in it and both the states are not fulfilling their responsibility of providing clean water to their natives and thus, violated Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” We have also asked Hon'ble court to immediately constitute a Special Investigating Team under the supervision of an official not below the rank of Superintendent of Police to investigate and submit its report to this Hon’ble Court on the issue of the dead bodies found at the shore of river Ganges.

How did you file this PIL?

Anupam & Sudeep: Initially we had applied in the Students Counsel by filling up the google form. Then we got a chance to interact with the Advocates from Legal Angles Patna, who made an action plan for this PIL. After a few online sessions, we were taught how to draft the petition and we started doing our work on this petition.


Students' Counsel-Students litigating for the constitutional rights amid COVID-19!

(A project co-powered by Constitutional Rights Initiative-Legal Angles Patna)

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