Bodies of deceased Indian expats ‘stranded’ across Middle East over new notice

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A new circular from the New Delhi-based Airport Health Organisation (AHO), responsible for clearing dead bodies, human remains and ashes of Indians living abroad, has asked airlines carrying dead bodies or human remains to intimate the AHO 48 hours in advance and carry death certificates in English specifying the reason for death to ensure speedy clearance.

The circular says two days’ advance notification is needed for officials to examine the documents.

“As per the provisions of the Aircraft (Public Health Rules), 1954 Part IV Rule No 13 to 47 regarding carriage of dead bodies and cremated remains by international airlines, the consignees as well as the air transport service shall give the health officer at the airport of arrival, advance inform at least 48 hours of the importation of the dead body or human remains or ashes.

dead body remains

New Delhi-based Airport Health Organisation’s circular calls for 48-hours advance notice for clearing dead bodies

“This is important for speedy clearance of the dead body or human remains,” said the circular sent out by the Airport Health Organisation in the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi.

This rule has been in existence, but airlines have now been instructed to follow it strictly, following recent cases of MERS virus related deaths in Saudi Arabia. Four dead bodies have been stranded at Muscat Airport after the rule began to be applied strictly, according to social workers in Oman.

In cases of death occurring outside hospitals, the certificates state the reason for death as ‘unknown’ as special permission from the public prosecution is needed to conduct a post mortem. While earlier death certificates with reason for death as ‘unknown’ were accepted at Indian airports, India’s national carrier is said to have stopped accepting such dead bodies.

The dead body of an Indian from Tamil Nadu state, which was to be sent to Thiruvananthapuram Airport, is stranded in the hospital morgue for more than 12 days. The dead body of a man from Amritsar, Punjab, who died 15 days ago and two others who died more than ten days ago are also stranded. The new circular is said to be the reason for the delay in repatriating their mortal remains.

In the case of normal death, the cause is not clearly mentioned in death certificates issued from the Gulf region.

It is also unclear whether the new directive will be applicable only to dead bodies arriving at New Delhi’s IGI Airport or whether it will be applied at all airports in India where the AHO has an office. “We are also confused as to whether we have to inform the AHO in New Delhi about dead bodies being sent to other airports like Kochi or Chennai,” said an airline source.

The AHO, which is responsible for disinfection of aircraft as per international air sanitation rules, has apparently tightened the regulation regarding dead body repatriation after recent reports of deaths due to corona virus in a Gulf country.

The AHO circular says there should be a proper death certificate issued by a medical officer in English or translated into English. “Death certificates showing cause of death as ‘pending’ or ‘to be ascertained after postmortem’ or ‘unknown’ may not be accepted and the AHO’s medical officer will not give a no-objection certificate without which the dead bodies will not be allowed into the airport,” said an airline source.

The circular also reiterates an earlier rule that if the dead body is embalmed, an embalming certificate is mandatory. An NOC issued by Indian embassy of the country from where body is transported is mandatory.

According to the circular, as per the provisions of the Aircraft Public Health Rules, no person will be allowed to bring into India any dead body or human remains of persons who may have died of yellow fever, plague or any other disease notified by India’s central government. However, these rules will not apply if the ashes are of properly cremated dead bodies.

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