New Delhi: The Central government on Saturday gave the nod to repatriate the mortal remains of Non-Resident Indians(NRI) to India in the event of their demise abroad during the lockdown.
The regulations outlined by the External Affairs Ministry and the Health Ministry must be strictly adhered to, the Home Ministry said in a notification issued on Saturday.
In an official communication, the ministry said airport authorities have to follow the protocols laid down by different government agencies in this regard.
It is clarified that immigration functions in respect of the arrival of dead bodies and mortal remains of the Indian nationals/ OCI cardholders are permitted subject to strict adherence to the guidelines/ instructions issued by various ministries and departments related with management of COVID-19 and submission of no objection, approval and concurrence from the Ministries of Health and External Affairs in this regard.
Importation of human remains of COVID-19 patients not recommended
The Home Ministry also said the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the health ministry in this regard must be strictly adhered to.
According to the SOP, the human remains mean the dead body and the exhumed body of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. It says the importation of the human remains of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case into India is not recommended.
The MHA said if, contrary to the above recommendation, human remains of the suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 arrive at Indian airports, the concerned Airport Health Officer (APHO) has to follow certain procedures. The APHO will verify the the death certificate mentioning the cause of death as confirmed COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19, it said.
It will also verify the no-objection certificate (NOC) for the transportation of human remains of the deceased issued by the Indian Embassies or High Commissions or Consulates and embalming certificate issued by an authorised agency.
On the examination of packaging or human remains, it said the concerned airline shall ensure that the external packing of coffin is undamaged.
The APHO will verify the required documents and inspect the packing in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules. 1954, the MHA said.
If there are any obvious signs of damage to the coffin, the handlers shall use full PPE, cover the coffin in plastic sheets to avoid any contact with the body or body fluids before hand-over of the human remains to the concerned authority for final burial or incineration.
The personnel handling the human remains should follow the laid down procedures for donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment and follow other protective measures for COVID-19 like hand-washing with soap and water, etc. to ensure that they remain protected during the procedure, it said.
The coffin shall be buried or incinerated following the norms for burial or incineration for human remains with high risk pathogens, the MHA said, adding the handlers would be monitored for 28 days and the designated vehicle disinfected as per the norms.
In all such cases, the APHO must direct the concerned airline (carrying the damaged packing containing human remains) to carry out the disinfection of the aircraft as per the norms, it said.
In addition, the staff handling the cargo (human remains in question) shall be quarantined for 28 days.
The MHA said the ashes remaining after the cremation pose no risk to the relatives who handle such mortal remains and will be cleared in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules, 1954.
Three bodies sent back from Delhi
The mortal remains of at least 27 Indians are kept in various parts of the United Arab Emirates(UAE) on account the lockdown restrictions.
On Friday, three bodies were sent back from New Delhi to Abu Dhabi citing procedural irregularities. The mortal remains of the three expats were sent to Delhi with the permission of the Indian embassy in the Etihad cargo aircraft. However, the bodies were not permitted to be deplaned without the permission of the central government's foreign affairs ministry. Following this, the bodies were sent back to Abu Dhabi in the same aircraft.
Once embalmed the bodies cannot be returned to mortuaries. The mortal remains of a Kayamkulam native is stored at the Dubai International Airport.
The embalmed bodies of two Keralites are still in Kuwait pending approval. Relatives of deceased Keralites are also awaiting the approval of authorities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.