The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said it would be monitoring implementation of the Aam Aadmi Party government’s recent order on disposal of bodies of those who died of COVID-19. A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said that it wants to see how the Delhi government health department’s May 30 direction regarding disposal of COVID-19 dead has worked at the ground level.

Delhi government’s additional standing counsel Sanjoy Ghose, who appeared for the health department, said that the court particularly wanted to see how the order is being followed. Ghose also said that the court asked the Delhi government to file an updated status report two days before the next date of hearing on June 15.

The May 30 order of the Health department has fixed the responsibility, for timely disposal of the COVID-19 positive/suspect dead bodies, on the Medical Director/ Director of the hospital where a patient died or was brought dead.

“Respective municipal corporation shall make all the arrangements to cremate/bury such dead bodies,” the order also said.

Some other directions contained in the order are that body of a COVID-19 positive/suspect patient be sent to mortuary within 2 hours of death in hospital or brought dead there and if family or relatives of the deceased contact mortuary within 12 hours, then hospital shall schedule the cremation/burial within next 24 hours.

If no family member or relative gets in touch with mortuary in 12 hours, an intimation shall be sent to them through the area SHO regarding the date, time and place of cremation/burial so that they can attend the funeral.

“The hospital must fix date and time in such a way that an effective notice of 24 hours is available to family/relatives,” the department’s order said.

In case of unidentified bodies of COVID positive/suspect persons, Delhi Police has been directed by the health department to complete all legal formalities within 72 hours of death and dispose of the body in next 24 hours.

The court took suo moto cognizance after coming across news reports that there was a lack of facilities to cremate those who died due to COVID-19 and the bodies were piling up in the mortuaries.

The court had said it was pained at the state of affairs as reported in newspapers and  if this was the correct situation then it was “highly dissatisfactory and violative of the rights of the dead”, on Thursday, May 28. The news reports had said that the backlog in disposal of bodies was due to non-functioning of CNG furnaces at Nigambodh and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums.

Delhi government said that the situation, based on which the court had initiated the suo motu proceedings, was a result of unavoidable circumstances like reduced capacity of Nigambodh Ghat to handle bodies on account of snags in furnaces, workers at crematorium refusing to handle COVID-19 deceased, sudden spike in coronavirus cases and related deaths in Delhi and relatives refusing to come forward to claim bodies.

On Monday, June 1, Delhi government filed an affidavit stating that it has stopped testing the dead for COVID-19 and because of this the relatives are not claiming the bodies of those suspected to have died of the virus, leading to delays in their disposal.

Earlier, the high court had rapped the Kejriwal government over lack of facilities provided to COVID-19 patients and directed it to provied details regarding the matter.

(With inputs from PTI)