A Division Bench of the Madras High Court has set aside an order passed by a single judge to exhume all bodies that had been buried on a land classified ‘ Vandi Pathai’ (cart track) in the revenue records of Navakurichi village in Attur taluk of Salem district and relocate the remains to two designated burial grounds in the village.
Justices R. Subramanian and K. Kumaresh Babu agreed with advocate N.G.R. Prasad that the law pertaining to burial of bodies in village panchayats was different from the law applicable to municipalities and corporations and hence there was no illegality in the bodies having been buried in a place that had not been designated as a burial ground.
The judges pointed out that Section 281(3) of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act as well as Section 321 of the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act contain a specific prohibition by stating that no person should bury, burn or otherwise dispose of any corpse except in a place which had been registered, licensed or provided for the purpose.
On the contrary, neither the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act of 1994 nor the Tamil Nadu Village Panchayat (Provision of Burial and Burning Grounds) Rules of 1999 contained such a general prohibition. The 1999 statutory rules only prohibit burial or burning of a corpse within 90 metres of a dwelling place or a source of drinking water supply.
“Therefore, it is clear that the intention of the legislature was not to ban burial or burning in a place which is not designated or licensed in a village panchayat,” the judges observed and said that the reason behind such a refrain appeared to be the government’s reluctance to interfere with certain customs prevailing in villages.
“We find that such a restraint is based on sound reasoning taking into account the population density and urbanisation,” the judges said and sounded a word of caution that their verdict on the issue should not be misunderstood to mean as if the court had granted a licence to bury bodies anywhere and everywhere in village panchayats.
“Wherever there are designated places for burial and burning of the corpse, burial and burning must be restricted to those designated places unless there is a custom in the village or area concerned to use any other place for burial or a burning of corpses,” Justice Subramanian ruled.
He pointed out that the legislature had taken care to empower the elected bodies in village panchayats to ban burials in a particular area depending upon the need. In the present case, many bodies had been buried on the cart track for long and hence they need not be exhumed as ordered by the single judge in 2014, the Bench ordered while disposing of the appeal pending since then.