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New Delhi, April 25, 2020
A plea has been moved in the Supreme Court raising concern over bodies of non-resident Indians (NRIs) lying abandoned at foreign airports, after Indian Embassies in those countries started demanding a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Ministry of Home Affairs, even for non-coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths.
The plea has been moved by rights body Pravasi Legal Cell through advocate Jose Abraham.
"Indian Embassies, which were earlier issuing clearance certificates, are now insisting on production of a no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, even for those who have died in accidents or due to non-COVID-19 related ailment," said the petition.
The petitioner argued that bodies of Indian expatriates, especially from Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who died due to non-COVID-19 ailments cannot be brought back to India. There was no issue in bringing back the mortal remains into India via cargo planes till April 21.
The petitioner contended that an instruction has been issued to individual airlines that "the immigration clearance for the bodies has been suspended alongside closing of immigration checkposts on March 23 at the airports".
The plea stated that even the airlines have been forced to approach the MHA for obtaining separate permission to carry the mortal remains into India.
"This is not only a cumbersome process, but would also lead to hesitation from the airlines to transport mortal remains in the near future," added the plea.
The plea cited the case of one Varghese Philip, who died on April 16 at the Kuwait Cancer Centre due to sudden cardiac arrest, and one Vinod M.V., who died at the Al-Adan Hospital in Kuwait due to bleeding in the brain owing to high blood pressure.
The cause of death in both the cases was registered by the Ministry of Public Health, Kuwait, and embalmment certificates of the bodies were also issued. However, the Embassy of India in Kuwait has not issued a "clearance certificate" citing the absence of a no-objection certificate from the MHA, the plea claimed.
The petitioner urged the top court to set aside these instructions issued to the Indian Embassies/High Commissions abroad, and also sought direction to permit cargo planes to bring back the mortal remains of Indian expatriates, who died due to other ailments without insisting on a no-objection certificate.