Railways only liability is to provide a shroud for unclaimed bodies

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court’s concern for unclaimed bodies found on rail tracks and public places evoked a rather uninspiring response from the railways, which said its responsibility ended after making provision for a cloth to wrap the body.

Senior advocate SP Singh informed a bench of justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde that the disposal of unclaimed bodies detected in railway areas was the responsibility of Government Railway Police (GRP), the operational cost of which was borne 50:50 by the Centre and states.

Interestingly, Singh said the Railway Protection Force (RPF), which functions under the ministry of railways, supplements the efforts of the states in providing security to passengers and protects railway property.

On unclaimed bodies found in railway areas, the counsel said, “GRP initiates necessary action for disposal of unidentified bodies after fulfilling requisite legal formalities like ‘panchnama’ and photographing the body. Being the service provider, railways bears the expenditure incurred by GRP on covering and removal of dead bodies from railway premises.”

Referring to a March 12 order, the railways informed the court that “at present, Rs 1,000 (or actual expenditure whichever is less) has been fixed as the rate of payment to GRP for providing a shroud at the time of removal of any dead body found in railway premises”.

This response came on a PIL filed by Vikas Chandra Guddu Baba, who had alleged that unclaimed bodies were dumped into rivers by the authorities in the absence of proper guidelines.

In its response to the PIL, the railways said, “Responsibility of the railways is restricted to ensure passing of information about detection of unclaimed dead body immediately to GRP and to reimburse the expenditure incurred by the GRP in providing shrouds to cover dead bodies up to a maximum of Rs 1,000.”

However, the bench was unimpressed by the railways’ affidavit and told the counsel to take instructions from the home ministry for possible uniform guidelines for various authorities in decent disposal of unidentified and unclaimed bodies found in public places. It posted the PIL for further hearing on October 21.