New Delhi: On Friday morning the Uttarakhand high court in Nainital directed AIIMS Rishikesh to hand over the body of G.D. Agarwal to Matri Sadan, the ashram that was his home, within eight hours. Soon after, AIIMS Rishikesh approached the Supreme Court in Delhi against the order. In the evening, SC issued an order staying the Uttarakhand HC order.
Agarwal had been on a fast since June 22 demanding urgent action by the government to make Ganga aviral (free flowing) and to ensure that steps are taken to rejuvenate the river. After 112 days of fasting, he died on October 11 while he was in AIIMS Rishikesh, where he was taken forcibly a day prior.
When Agarwal’s followers at the Matri Sadan asked for his body to allow followers to pay homage, AIIMS refused, arguing that Agarwal had donated his body to the institute. Vijay Verma, a follower of Agarwal’s, approached the Uttarakhand HC arguing that the body be handed over to Matri Sadan to allow the followers to pay last respects. The HC accepted the plea on Friday morning.
“We are of the considered view that the followers are entitled to have the last Darshan of the body of Swami Sanand (Agarwal was also known as Swami Sanand),” Acting chief justice Rajeev Sharma and justice Manoj Tiwari noted.
The HC directed AIIMS to handover Agarwal’s body to Matri Sadan within eight hours of the passing of the order ‘to enable his followers to pay last homage and also to perform religious ceremonies as per Hindu religion’. The body was to be preserved in ice while the homage was paid and it was to be returned to AIIMS after 72 hours.
However, AIIMS approached the Supreme Court, which has stayed the HC order ‘until further orders’. “The order of the High Court, if implemented, will make the organs of the deceased whose body has been embalmed in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh unfit for being transplanted to other human beings,” the SC order said.
Swami Shivanand Saraswati, the founder president of Matri Sadan said, “The Supreme Court has gone beyond its remit. It has not right to interfere in matters of belief. And the argument that AIIMS has put forth is bogus. His (Agarwal’s) organs would already have decayed because it has been 15 days since his death. We will appeal this order.”
“The reason which the Supreme Court has given is not correct. The organs would already be unfit for transplanting to other human being. They become non-functional once you put the body in the mortuary and after that can only be used only for anatomical dissection. The body can only be used for 2-3 months then it is cremated,” a former head of the AIIMS Delhi Department of Anatomy said on the condition of anonymity.
However, Harish Thapliyal, spokesperson for AIIMS Rishikesh, has argued that the organs can still be transplanted as the body has been preserved using formalin. “Since October 11, the body has been kept in a glass case preserved using formalin. It will decay two hours after it is taken out. That is why we approached the SC. As of now, the organs are in the condition that they were in at the time of death and can be transplanted. So, the argument that we have made in the SC is completely valid,” he said.
A tussle for Agarwal’s body began the day after his death when family members and followers were allowed to view the body only for a few minutes. The AIIMS director Professor Ravikant said at the time, “The man is dead. What is family now? Family wanted to see body, we did it yesterday. If you want to pay homage, garland a photo at home. Hospital is not a place for a function (event). This way, people will keep coming for 2 days.”
Saraswati has raised questions about the way AIIMS and the government has handled the situation. “He gave his life for the cause of the Ganga and no one was bothered when he was on fast and no one is bothered now. They have shown their true colours in the way he has been treated. Dignity has not been allowed to him even after death,” he said.