Lucknow: Days after around 70 decomposed and half burnt bodies were reportedly found floating in the Ganges at Buxar in Bihar, at least two dozen decomposing bodies turned up in the river on Tuesday in adjoining Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh. This has caused fear and panic among villagers due to Covid-19 related deaths.
The incident has drawn national media attention and criticism from the opposition parties and the civil society after villagers of the area recorded videos of the floating bodies, which were later widely shared on social media.
According to the villagers in Ujiyar, Kulhadia and Bharauli ghats in Ballia's Narahi area, under Narhi police station, more than 45 bodies have been found floating in the Ganges over the past couple of days. They said dogs, crows and vultures were consuming the alleged COVID-19 victims' dead bodies when they reached the banks of river Ganga.
"Bodies were found flowing near the bank of the Ganges river at Bharauli Ghat. All the dead bodies were pulled out with the help of bamboo and poles. As soon as news spread in the region, the district administration with security forces came to the spot. In the presence of the administration, a large pit was dug with the JCB machine at the ghat and their funeral rites were performed by a group of doms who reside near the ghat," Yashraj, a villager of Bharauli told Newsclick, adding that fear has engulfed his village and even adjoining areas. The fear of contracting COVID-19 is constant and the glowing fire from the crematoriums neither gives peace of mind nor sleep, he said.
However, Ballia district authorities have not disclosed the exact number of cadavers discovered. District Magistrate Aditi Singh told the media that the exact number of bodies discovered was not yet known. "Some bodies have been found in decomposed condition under the Ballia-Buxar bridge,” she said, adding that the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and the circle officer were probing the incident.
Circle Officer (Sadar) Jagveer Singh Chauhan told Newsclick, "Though we cannot quantify the number of dead bodies but at least 25 bodies in composed and semi-decomposed condition were floating near the banks of the Ganges at Ujiyar, Kulhadia and Bharauli ghats. We are trying to find out where the bodies came from. Seeing the flow of the river, it seems that they came from Buxar and other parts of Bihar," Chauhan said.
Chauhan further claimed that as of now, they were not able to identify the bodies and trace their sources since they were probably floating in water for the last 10-15 days. "It seems that the dead bodies were dumped two-three weeks before. Therefore, it is difficult to trace their source," the Circle Officer said.
Meanwhile, bodies were also seen floating in the river in Gahmar and Bara villages of Ghazipur, according to residents.
However, contrary to the Circle Officer’s claims, villagers said that due to the overnight wait, never-ending queues and arbitrary cost of wood, family members are forced to throw the bodies into rivers, which is how bodies may have floated to the ghats.
Rameshwar Singh, a resident of Bara village, said that the coronavirus was wreaking havoc in rural areas across the state ever since Panchayat elections were conducted. People have died in large number in villages and families are throwing the dead bodies in Ganga or Yamuna in panic as neither the government nor the administrator was helping them during the last rites, he alleged. "Family members are cremating bodies of their loved ones on the ground. No government or local official has any record of how many people have been cremated or if their bodies were disposed of after dying due to Covid-19 in these areas," he claimed.
It is to be noted that deaths are being reported after over 800 teachers, shiksha mitras allegedly died due to COVID-19 following their deputation to Panchayat poll duty in Uttar Pradesh.
BODIES FLOAT IN YAMUNA
Like in Ghazipur, villagers in Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh spotted dozens of bodies floating in the river Yamuna on Sunday. This led to panic among the residents even as speculation grew about the bodies being of those villagers who succumbed to coronavirus.
As per a resident of the district, people were dumping bodies of the Covid-19 victims in Yamuna river as cremation grounds in the region were overwhelmed. The number of Covid cases has increased steeply in the last 20 days and deaths were being reported from every corner of the district and as well as neighboring Kanpur district.
Ajay Rai, a social activist based in Hamirpur, said, "The administration has failed miserably and their mismanagement could be spotted at any ghat of the river.”
In one particular village, locals have been cremating bodies in fields along the banks of Yamuna.
Anoop Singh, the Additional Superintendent of Police in Hamirpur, said that the Yamuna flows as a border between Hamirpur and Kanpur. "In normal times, anybody can spot bodies floating in river as Hindus consider the river sacred, but in the times of COVID, there has been a flood of bodies in the river, which is indicative of how people are dying in large numbers," Singh said.
He said that seeing the condition of bodies, it might be guessed that many families, instead of burning the mortal remains of their dead kin, preferred to immerse them in the river as the last rites. He said they were investigating the matter and were also in contact with the police of Kanpur Outer and Kanpur Dehat. “We came to know through our concerned officers that at least three to four bodies were burnt and probably thrown into the river," he added.
Commenting over the news pouring in that people are “dumping” bodies into the river, Hemwant Singh of Ballia, a farmer and social activist, said that the coronavirus crisis shifted from urban areas to rural areas and the situation in every village has become devastating as the administration did not learn from the past.
“When the government has failed to save patients’ life from the coronavirus and now the administration has failed to manage the funeral ghats, where will family members go if not dump the bodies?” Singh asked. The situation would be more horrific in the coming two-three weeks if the administration does not buckle up, Singh told Newsclick.
Meanwhile, the Centre on Tuesday took cognisance of the situation and asked states along the Ganges to ensure strict vigilance and check future incidences of people dumping bodies in the river and its tributaries.
In a letter to District Ganga Committees, which are chaired by district magistrates or collectors, the National Mission for Clean Ganga also asked the authorities to dispose unidentified bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims in accordance with safety protocols. The National Mission for Clean Ganga is the apex body that monitors rejuvenation of the river and its tributaries.