The BMC has ordered that “irrespective of religion” bodies of all those who die of coronavirus must be cremated to “avoid transmission chances in the community”. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has ordered that “irrespective of religion” bodies of all those who die of coronavirus must be cremated to “avoid transmission chances in the community”, but says exceptions will be made where the burial ground is “large enough so as not to create possibility of spread of infection in the neighbouring area”.
The circular was issued by BMC commissioner Parveen Pardeshi.
Guidelines issued on handling COVID 19-infected dead bodies, both by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and by the World Health Organisation, allow for the burial or cremation of persons who have died of the disease, while setting out the procedures to be followed to prevent infection from spreading from the body.
Neither document mentions possibility of the infection spreading from a body buried following all the anti-infection protocols having been followed.
The BMC circular says the order was issued after community leaders expressed concern over contamination as most of the burial grounds are in densely populated localities. “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion. The rituals involving touching the body should be avoided,” the circular says. It further says “packaging the body in a plastic bag and burying the same prevents early decomposition and risks containing the virus for future spread”.
Emphasising that “burial should not be allowed”, it says the order would be communicated to local leaders by assistant municipal commissioners.
The circular goes on to say that “[h]owever, if someone insists to bury dead body, he will be permitted if the burial grounds are large enough so as not to create possibility of spread of virus in the neighbouring area and other arrangements are made by the concerned on their own following all the guidelines and precautions as given for disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19”.
Pardeshi had to issue an amended circular to include this exception, after an earlier circular, which stated that those who insist on burial would be permitted to do so “only if dead body is taken out of Mumbai city’s jurisdiction” and buried outside, created concern in the Muslim community. “I told the BMC commissioner to withdraw the order. This problem came up as many burial grounds declined to allow infected people to be buried on their premises. I have told the BMC that there is a new burial ground in Kurla where all the affected bodies can be buried,” Minority Affairs Minister and senior NCP leader Nawab Malik said after the first order.
“There have been deaths due to the outbreak across the world, nowhere have we seen directives been given that the bodies should only be cremated. As per the laiddown protocals, provisions can be made to ensure that burials take place in a safe manner. The order was uncalled for,” said Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Asim Azmi.
“The BMC should provide separate or designated burial area for the dead bodies. Where is the place outside Mumbai? Cremation is not a solution. Every funeral should be allowed as per the person’s religion,” said Maulana Mahmood Dariyabadi, general secretary, All Ulema Council. He said such bodies could be buried deeper.
Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, said they are yet to receive any communication from the authorities. “Cremation is permitted in the Catholic Church and in the situation we are in we would understand. However, we will wait to be notified about it.”
NCP leader and Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, “We will have to look at the central government advisory. Whatever it is that has to be followed for final rites.”
A public health department official said for H1N1 deaths, also an infectious disease, burials are permitted for dead bodies. “We only advise families to not touch the body,” the official said.
The circular restricts the participation at all funerals to a maximum of five people. Officials said violations of these directives will invite action under Section 188 of IPC.
Mumbai has so far registered eight confirmed coronavirus deaths. There are over 50 crematoriums and burial grounds operated by the BMC across the city. Apart from this, over 120 crematoriums are operated by private organisations.
In Mumbai, there are so far 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19, admitted in various municipal hospitals. On Monday, there were 47 new cases from Mumbai and Metropolitan Region.