Indian state orders crackdown on practice of dumping bodies in river amid Covid crisis

Indian state orders crackdown on practice of dumping bodies in river amid Covid crisis
Warnings against dumping bodies were given through newspaper ads and announcements on loudspeaker

The government of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh has banned the practice of throwing dead bodies in rivers and promised aid to families struggling to afford cremations for Covid causalities, after hundreds of bodies were seen floating or buried on riverbanks.

Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand figurehead for Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP, ordered district authorities to ensure that bodies which could be infected with Covid are not “floating in rivers” and polluting the holy river Ganges, which is also a key water source.

“At several places bodies have been recovered from rivers. It must be ensured that bodies are not floating in rivers,” a letter by state Chief Secretary RK Tiwari read.

“It is possible that these bodies are infected with Covid. There is a possibility that these bodies will pollute the rivers and are also likely to spread the infection among people,” it added.

A large number of decomposing bodies, estimated to be in the hundreds, have been found floating in the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in recent days. Disturbing images and videos showed half-burnt and decomposing bodies drifting on the river last week, shocking a nation that is still experiencing the brunt of a deadly second wave of Covid-19.

The issue was further exacerbated after rain and wind exposed a number of saffron-cloth covered bodies buried in shallow sand pits on the river bank.

It is not clear if all the bodies are of Covid patients, but residents told reporters that families are dumping bodies in the river as they do not have the money to pay for cremation, as prices for funeral services have been pushed up due to demand.

Messages were being blared through loudspeakers in river-side villages including Gazipur, Unnao and others for people not to throw bodies into the river.

“It is urged that incinerated bodies should not be submerged into the Ganga,” a worker said on a loudspeaker was seen saying in a video shared online.

A full-page government advertisement in all Uttar Pradesh newspapers on Sunday included a similar appeal, and said monetary aid would be given to anyone who could not afford to perform the last rites of their loved ones.

The government has asked police to patrol rivers and keep a watch on riverbanks to ensure bodies are not being dumped.

The state said it would pay a grant of Rs 5,000 each (£48) to poor families to perform funeral services.

With a population of more than 240 million, more people than the whole of Brazil or Pakistan, Uttar Pradesh has been particularly hard-hit by the second wave due to its fragile healthcare infrastructure. Experts say the situation could be far worse as cases and are going undetected in rural areas.

Denying reports that the count of bodies found in the river was as high as 2,000, Uttar Pradesh spokesperson Navneet Sehgal declined to give a total but said bodies were being found sporadically in groups of 10 to 20.

Senior state official Manoj Kumar Singh said traditional rituals were also a factor in the dumping of bodies, alongside fears of Covid infection from the remains and the lack of money to pay for cremation.