Ensure dignified burial of dead bodies in Manipur, directs Supreme Court

A Human Rights committee set up by the Supreme Court claims there are 175 dead bodies across mortuaries in Manipur

On 28 November 2023, the Supreme Court directed the Manipur government to make proper arrangements for the dignified burial of people who lost their lives in the Manipur violence. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, passed directions based on a report prepared by the committee led by Justice Gita Mital. The committee was formed by the Supreme Court on 7 August 2023 to oversee the humanitarian aspects such as compensation and rehabilitation of victims in the Manipur violence.  

Today, the committee report apprised the Bench that there are 175 dead bodies without burials in the state. Of these, 169 were identified bodies, 81 of these bodies were claimed by the relatives or the next of kin, 88 were unclaimed and the remaining six bodies were unidentified in the mortuaries. Additionally, the report claimed that the Manipur government has recognised nine sites for cremations or burials. However, civil society organisations were preventing the next of kin from accepting the bodies, the report said. 

Supreme Court: No third-party interference while performing last rites 

Dictating the Order for the day, CJI Chandrachud held that the burial process should be taken up expeditiously as many dead bodies remained in the mortuaries since May 2023 (when the violence began). The Bench directed the Manipur government to issue notifications of the availability of the nine burial sites to the people by Monday, 5 December 2023. The next of kin would be permitted to carry out the last rites at any of these nine sites. 

The Order also specifically noted that there should be no interference by “third parties” during this process. Senior Advocate India Jaising suggested that the last rites be carried out according to the respective religious practices. Petitioners also requested that the state administration take up measures to send bodies to families that lived away from Imphal—where most of the bodies were kept. CJI Chandrachud agreed and noted that the families will have the liberty to carry out the process according to their religious practices. 

Subsequently, for the identified and unclaimed bodies, the Court directed the Manipur government to inform the next of kin by 5 December 2023. He directed the Manipur government to undertake the burial process of the unclaimed bodies a week after the notification—if they were still unclaimed. This, he said, should be carried out under Sections 160 and 161 of the Manipur Municipalities Act, 1994. These provisions discuss the burial of unclaimed bodies according to religious beliefs. 

For the six unidentified bodies, the Court directed that the Manipur government carry out the burial or cremation process keeping due observance of religious rites. Jaising also suggested that the Manipur government should collect DNA samples of all bodies as many deceased persons were part of numerous criminal investigations. CJI Chandrachud accepted the suggestion and directed the Manipur government to do so. 

Committee Report: 38 families refusing to accept compensation 

The committee report also claimed that civil society organisations have prevented the next of kin from accepting compensation provided for by the Manipur government. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated that 38 families are “threatened” into not sharing their bank account details. However, due to the paucity of time, the Bench decided to hear the issue of compensation during the next hearing on 5 December 2023. 

Union to consider relocation of students to other Central Universities 

In another case earlier that day, Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora had submitted that the education of 284 students studying at Manipur University, Imphal had come to a standstill. She contended that the education of the students was interrupted for over six months after the violence broke out in May 2023. 

The Supreme Court directed SG Mehta and Advocate General of Manipur Lenin Singh Hijam to consider shifting the 284 students to other central universities around the country. .