The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued directions for ensuring the burial or cremation of bodies lying in mortuaries in Manipur, where ethnic clashes had claimed several lives in May.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud noted that a report filed by the apex court-appointed all-woman committee of former high court judges, headed by Justice (retd) Gita Mittal, has indicated the position of the bodies that are lying in mortuaries in the northeastern state.
The bench, also comprising justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said the report indicated that 169 of the 175 bodies have been identified while six have not been identified. It noted that of the 169 identified bodies, 81 have been claimed by the next of kin while 88 have not been claimed.
The bench observed that the state government has identified nine sites where the burial or cremation can take place. "Bearing in mind the fact that violence in the state of Manipur had taken place in May 2023, it would not be either appropriate or proper to keep the bodies which have not been identified or claimed indefinitely in the mortuaries," it said.
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The apex court is seized of a batch of pleas, including those seeking court-monitored probes into cases of violence, besides measures for relief and rehabilitation.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the bench directed that last rites can be done by family members for identified and claimed bodies at any of the nine sites without any hindrance by any other parties. It said state authorities will inform the next of kin of the identified bodies, which have already been claimed, about the sites. The bench said this exercise must be carried out on or before December 4.
"As regards the bodies which have been identified but which have not been claimed, the state administration shall issue a communication to the next of kin on or before Monday intimating the next of kin that they are permitted to carry out the last rites together with requisite religious observances within a period of one week thereafter at any of the identified nine burial/cremation sites," it said.
It said the collector and the superintendent of police (SP) would be at liberty to take all appropriate steps for the maintenance of law and order so as to ensure that the burials or cremations take place in an orderly manner.
"In the event that DNA samples have not been drawn at the stage when the autopsies were conducted, the state shall ensure drawing of such samples before the process of burial/cremation takes place," the apex court said.
"The state is permitted to issue a public notice indicating that if bodies, which are identified, are not claimed within a period of one week from the date of issuance of the notice, the state shall carry out the last rites… after the expiry of the period of one week by complying with the directions which have been issued above," it said.
The bench said it would hear on December 4 the issues raised in the committee's report about acceptance of ex-gratia to kin of the victims.
The committee headed by Justice (retd) Gita Mittal also includes justices (retd) Shalini P Joshi and Asha Menon. Manipur descended into chaos and untrammelled violence in May over a high court order directing the state government to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes.
This order led to rampant ethnic clashes. More than 170 people have been killed and several hundred others injured since ethnic violence first broke out in the state on May 3 when a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community's demand for ST status.
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