Lucknow: After the water level of the river Ganges at Prayagraj rose significantly due to incessant rains in Uttar Pradesh, as many as ten dead bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims buried on the riverbank reportedly resurfaced on Sunday at Phaphamau Ghat.
Rainfall across the state has resulted in the the water level of the Ganges rising, leading to erosion. Subsequently, the sand on the riverbank was eroded. As a result, bodies which were buried in the sand pits – barely three to four feet deep – resurfaced. Nearly 60 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims emerged at the Phaphamau ghat on Friday alone, following which they were cremated under the supervision of Neeraj Singh, zonal officer at the Prayagraj Municipal Corporation, an official in the know had told Newsclick.
The official added that more bodies buried along the river were expected to resurface due to the rise in the river's water level. The municipal corporation of Prayagraj has deployed teams to carry out the cremations.
Singh, one of the people performing the last rites, told Newsclick: “Dead bodies which were buried in the sand during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are now surfacing. A total of 60 bodies were found on Friday and nearly three dozen were cremated keeping Hindu rituals in mind. Municipal officials had to struggle to bury these dead bodies due to the rain," said Singh, adding that the monitoring committee constituted by the municipal corporation in the area has taken the responsibility of cremating the bodies that are still surfacing.
Singh and his team inspect the sandy banks of the Ganges each day. If a body is on the verge of getting exposed, the team digs out the corpse and cremates it. He not only participates in the cremation, but also makes it a point to ensure that all rituals are followed.
According to Singh, more than 100 bodies have resurfaced at Phaphamau ghat in the last one and half months. The civic body has ensured that the last rites were performed properly.
"The process of finding dead bodies is ongoing amidst the continuous increase in the water level of Ganges. Ten buried bodies came out during our search on Sunday too. By late evening these bodies were cremated. About 350 dead bodies have been burnt so far," said Mukund Tiwari, a member of the monitoring committee
This was not the first time that dead bodies have been found floating in the river, which is considered sacred by Hindus. During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, ghastly sights of hundreds of bodies were washed up on the Ganges’s banks in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The discovery has caused panic among people living in nearby areas.
"We have never seen such a sight near the river Ganges before. There are thousands of bodies here. The government should follow its motto of 'Swachh Bharat' and maintain cleanliness in the area," said Anil Yadav, a local. He also objected against what had been going on, saying that bodies were cremated in secret during the night, not adhering to Hindu rituals.
Meanwhile, despite repeated attempts, district officials have refused to comment on the matter.
Senior Allahabad High Court lawyer Arun Kumar Gupta said the district administration needed to expand its vigil and keep at it for 24 hours. “Given the rising water levels in the Ganges the coming days would require a 24x7 vigil of the riverbanks,” he warned, adding that not only Phaphamau Ghat but other ghats – where thousands of bodies have been buried – should be watched too.
The Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh has come under severe criticism after a large number of bodies were found buried in shallow sand graves or washed up along the Ganga's banks in the state. Amid criticism, the Prayagraj municipal corporation deployed a team on the riverbanks in the Sangam area to cover-up the bodies after scores of corpses covered with saffron shrouds were exposed due to rains.