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Suspected Covid victims bodies found on India’s Ganges river

May 12, 2021 | 12:35

The upsurge amount of bodies floating in the Ganges river was due to the overcrowdedness and high costs in crematorium, according to reports from India.

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Locals in the northern Indian state of Bihar found dozens of dead bodies on the banks of the river Ganges, the country's media reported on Monday.

Suspected Covid Victims Bodies Found On India’s Ganges River
A family member watching the cremation of a Covid victim. Photograph: Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock

These bodies were of coronavirus victims whose families could not afford the costs of cremation, authorities said.

The bodies seemed to have floated down from Uttar Pradesh and resurfaced at the Mahadeo ghat(bank) of the Ganga at Chausa village in Bihar. Chausa is about 10 kms from the headquarters of the border district of Buxar, adjoining eastern Uttar Pradesh, said The Hindu.

Local media reported there was panic in Chausa and neighbouring towns about the infection from bodies and the river water.

"It is really shocking for us," local resident Kameshwar Pandey told AFP. The local people, traumatised by the sight of floating human bodies in the Ganga, fear the spreading of diseases in the area, which has not been spared by the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. They complained of stench coming from the bloated, decomposed corpses and accused the authorities of ineptitude.

"We informed the administration about the matter, but no action has been taken by them. If the situation continues like this, there is fear of us getting infected by Coronavirus," Akhand, a resident said.

The incident of floating and piling up of corpses in Bihar sparked fears about the scale of the COVID-19 crisis in the country. Authorities believe the relatives of those who succumbed to the virus, may not have been able to find space for the last, said India TV News.

Suspected Covid Victims Bodies Found On India’s Ganges River
A Covid victim dead body on the bank of Ganges. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

"Some 35-40 bodies were spotted, many of these could be COVID-19 victims. On normal days we see two to three such bodies on this stretch of river, but the number is high because of the deadly outbreak," local official Naval Kant, told DPA news agency on phone from the town of Chausa where the bodies appeared, reported DW.

During the weekend, several partially-burnt bodies were spotted in the Yamuna river in Uttar Pradesh’s Hamirpur town. Opposition leaders claimed the bodies were proof that a substantial number of coronavirus deaths have gone unregistered. Some media reports said the number of corpses could be as high as 100. The reports also quoted other officials as saying some of them were bloated and partially burned and could have been in the river for several days, said AFP.

Chausa Block Development Officer (BDO) Ashok Kumar said, “None of the deceased happens to be a resident of the district”, adding, “how can we confirm whether the deceased were indeed COVID-19 positive? The bodies have decomposed and bloated but we’re ensuring they would be disposed off in a decent manner.”

However, the villagers of Chausa said, “The local officials came, visited the spot, looked at the floating bodies from the river bank and went back.”

Demanding the deployment of officials at cremation grounds to prevent people from pushing bodies into the river, the villagers also wanted the prices of firewood to be kept in check so that families can perform their last rites properly and are not forced to discard bodies. “The villagers also are panicked and terrified over the spread of COVID-19 virus via these bodies,” a local journalist told The Hindu.

Suspected Covid Victims Bodies Found On India’s Ganges River
Sight of overcrowded crematorium in India. Photograph: Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images

“We have directed concerned officials to dispose of all bodies, to either bury or cremate them,” Kumar told AFP.

According to local lawyer Ashwini Varma, the exorbitant cost of cremation could have forced the poor to jettison bodies in the river. “It nearly costs ₹30,000-40,000 to cremate a body. So the poor people prefer to push bodies into the river Ganga,” he said. “Stray dogs are devouring these bodies which could be of COVID-19 victims. It will spread the virus as well,” he added.

This is particularly the case now that the current surge has spread beyond big cities into rural areas where hospitals are few and far between and record-keeping poor, according to AFP.

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