Covid: Half-a-dozen corpses found floating in Ramganga near Bareilly district
Half-a-dozen corpses were seen floating down the Ramganga on Thursday in Bareilly district of western Uttar Pradesh after similar discoveries in Ghazipur and Ballia in the state’s east, suggesting the practice of dumping bodies in rivers had become widespread.
“Hundreds of people from adjoining areas gathered on the riverbank in Kadarganj village to see for themselves. The news spread by word of mouth,” Kadarganj gram panchayat chief Rakesh Kumar told reporters.
“Two of the bodies were tied to logs of firewood,” he added, implying they had been thrown into the river by families unable to find space at the choked cremation grounds or pay the huge bribes sought by crematory staff.
In the afternoon, four bodies were found floating down the Ganga at Badaura village in Chandauli district, which borders Varanasi, in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Three were half-burnt and were wrapped in plastic sheets. One was dressed in a shirt and trousers. The administration buried them on the riverbank.
Bodies had earlier been found in the Ganga in the eastern Uttar Pradesh districts of Ballia and Ghazipur on Tuesday, and bordering Buxar in Bihar on Monday.
Everywhere, local officials suggested the bodies had been dumped further upstream although local people told the media the practice was catching on in their villages.
A Kadarganj resident told reporters on Thursday: “I saw an ambulance arrive down Bukhara Road on May 10. Some people carried a body out and threw it into the river in the darkness of the night.”
The 600km Ramganga originates in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and flows into the Ganga in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, after passing through districts such as Bijnor, Moradabad, Rampur, Bareilly, Badaun, Shahjahanpur and Hardoi.
While Allahabad High Court has rapped the Uttar Pradesh government for concealing the death toll from a resurgent Covid, reports from across the state describe long queues at the crematories and a firewood shortage that may be prompting families to throw their dead into rivers.
Cremation ground staff are said to be demanding anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 15,000 to cremate a body. Besides, the fear of the infection often makes it difficult for families of dead Covid patients to find pallbearers.
“Villagers in Padhera, Kadarganj, Kani Nawada, Pankha Khera and Nagaria Kalan, situated along the Ramganga, have been discovering a floating body or two every day. Suddenly today (Thursday), many bodies were spotted,” former Kadarganj panchayat chief Gopal Pathak said.
“The villagers are terrorised because every family has people with high fever. It’s not possible to make out who is Covid-positive. Health department teams never visit the area.”
Pathak added: “We don’t have a tradition of immersing the dead in the river. But we believe that most of those dying now are Covid-positive, and the families are dumping the bodies in the river for fear of the virus.”
Environmentalists have warned that the practice can compound problems by polluting rivers.
“We have directed police stations across the state to prevent the dumping of bodies in rivers,” a senior police officer in Lucknow said.
“The police in every district are trying to help families get Covid patients treated or cremated. The people must call the police if they face problems.”