The Supreme Court has directed the Manipur government to ensure the respectful burial of unidentified and unclaimed bodies resulting from the persistent violence in the state since May 2023.
As the violence has continued unabated, a bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, declared that it is inappropriate to keep the bodies indefinitely in mortuaries.
The Supreme Court stressed the need for facilitative steps, enabling next of kin in relief camps to access bodies for identification and last rites. The Chief Secretary has been directed to take appropriate action accordingly.
The Court, addressing a series of pleas related to the ongoing violence in Manipur, had earlier formed an all-woman judicial committee led by Justice (retired) Gita Mittal. During the recent hearing, CJI Chandrachud noted that out of 175 bodies, 169 have been identified, with 81 claimed and 88 yet to be claimed.
The Manipur Municipalities Act provides guidelines for dealing with unclaimed bodies, and the state has identified nine burial sites. Tensions flared during the hearing between Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves over the place of burial, with Gonsalves accusing the state of bullying tribals.
Observing that 81 of the identified bodies have been claimed by next of kin, while 88 remain unclaimed, the bench directed the timely intimation of the list of identified bodies to the next of kin.
The apex court, handling various pleas, including those seeking court-monitored investigations into violence cases and relief measures, has granted the state the authority to issue a public notice. This notice will specify that if identified bodies remain unclaimed within one week from issuance, the state will proceed with the last rites in accordance with the aforementioned directions.
The bench has scheduled a hearing on December 4 to address concerns raised in the committee’s report regarding the acceptance of ex-gratia for the victims’ kin.