Respectable Last Rites As Important As Any Other Right Available When Alive: Bombay High Court

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The high court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking additional burial grounds in Mumbai’s Eastern Suburbs

The Bombay High Court on Monday observed that respectable last rites are as important as any other fundamental rights.

The division bench of the high court, comprising Chief Justice Devendra Upadhyaya and Justice Amit Borkar, was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking additional burial grounds in Mumbai’s Eastern Suburbs.

The high court criticized the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for its inability to find a suitable burial ground since November 2023. The bench questioned the BMC, stating, "Should the dead go to Mars now?"

During the proceedings since November, the BMC identified three potential locations for the burial grounds:

1. Some space next to Deonar Colony.

2. Some space at Rafi Nagar.

3. Another plot of land near Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited.

The State issued a notification concerning the Deonar Colony under Section 37 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, to reserve the area for a cemetery. However, due to a dispute regarding the site, the notification was challenged in the high court and the matter was clubbed with the PIL.

In November 2023, the BMC informed the bench that the Deonar Colony site was not feasible due to a solid waste heap. The BMC assured the court that it would find another location within a 3 km vicinity. However, despite seven months having passed, the BMC has not identified a suitable location.

In November 2023, the Advocate General informed the bench that the plot near Hindustan Petroleum Limited was owned by a private party, necessitating compulsory acquisition. For this, the BMC would need to deposit 30% of the compensation amount.

The bench noted in its November 2023 order that the acquisition should be completed within the timeframe specified under the act.

However, after seven months, the bench was informed that 30% of the estimated compensation amount had not yet been deposited by the Municipal Corporation.

The high court, in its order, emphasized that it is the statutory duty and obligation of the Municipal Corporation to provide an adequate place for the burial of the dead.

“Such callousness on the part of the authorities cannot be appreciated. Right of dead to be given a decent and respectful last rites is as important as any other right available when he is alive. Moreover, it is the statutory duty and obligation cast on the Municipal Corporation to provide adequate place for burial of the dead. The authorities of the Municipal Corporation, thus, cannot shirk their shoulders away from such statutory responsibility,” the court noted.

Therefore, the bench called upon the Municipal Commissioner to file a personal affidavit indicating the steps taken toward compliance with the order of the high court. The bench will now hear the PIL on 21st June 2024.

Case title: Shamsher Ahmed Sahikh vs MCGM