The Supreme Court issued directives on Tuesday to ensure the burial or cremation of bodies in Manipur’s mortuaries, where ethnic clashes resulted in numerous fatalities in May.
A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra acknowledged a report submitted by the apex court-appointed all-woman committee, headed by Justice (Retd) Gita Mittal, indicating the status of bodies in the northeastern state.
The report revealed that out of 175 bodies, 169 had been identified, with 81 claimed by next of kin, and 88 remaining unclaimed. The bench noted that the state government identified nine sites for burial or cremation.
Considering the violence in Manipur in May 2023, the court deemed it inappropriate to keep unidentified or unclaimed bodies indefinitely in mortuaries.
The Top Court is hearing a batch of pleas, including those seeking a court-monitored probe into the violence and measures for relief and rehabilitation.
During the hearing, the bench directed that last rites for identified and claimed bodies could be performed by family members at any of the nine sites without hindrance from other parties. The state authorities were asked to inform the next of kin about the sites, and this exercise was to be completed by 4 December.
“ As regard the bodies that have been identified but remain unclaimed, the state administration must issue a communication to the next of kin on or before Monday, notifying them that they are authorized to conduct the last rites along with necessary religious observances within one week at any of the identified nine burial/cremation sites,” the directive stated.
It granted the collector and the superintendent of police (SP) the authority to take all necessary measures to maintain law and order, ensuring orderly burials or cremations. The apex court specified that if DNA samples were not taken during autopsies, the state must ensure their collection before the burial/cremation process.
“The state is allowed to issue a public notice stating that if bodies, which are identified, are not claimed within one week from the date of notice issuance, the state shall proceed with the last rites after the expiration of the one-week period, adhering to the aforementioned directions,” it added.
The court scheduled a hearing for 4 December to address issues raised in the committee’s report regarding the acceptance of ex-gratia to the kin of the victims.
In May, Manipur witnessed chaos and violence over a high court order directing the state to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes. Ethnic clashes ensued, leading to over 170 deaths and numerous injuries since 3 May when tribal solidarity marches protested against the Meitei community’s demand for ST status.