Dead have no haven

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 14.05.08

When octogenarian Rajat Ghosh (not his real name) died in a nursing home last week, his NRI son sent word that he would be home for the funeral in two days. The rest of the family immediately decided to preserve the body in a private mortuary, little knowing that finding a well-maintained facility in this city would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Believe it or not, Calcutta has just one private mortuary, and it has space for not more than three bodies at a time. This, in a city that is ranked among the most populous in the world and records hundreds of deaths every day.

The beleaguered Ghosh family turned to police for help and was told that Peace Haven on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road preserves bodies for a fee of Rs 600 a day, along with a one-time payment of Rs 900. But there was no room there for Rajat Ghosh.

A relative then approached Hindu Satkar Samity on College Street, which said it had requested the Calcutta Municipal Corporation for land to set up a mortuary.

Even a visit to the office of the chief municipal health officer did not solve the problem. “You can contact Peace Haven. We have crematoria and burial grounds, but no infrastructure to preserve a body. Sorry,” the official said.

Mortuaries are not under the purview of any government or municipal department, which partly explains why the city has no infrastructure to properly preserve a body for several days. The stinking morgues in government hospitals do not admit bodies of people who die of natural causes in private hospitals or at home.

The secretary of Hindu Satkar Samity, Sandip Mukherjee, said his organisation would set up a mortuary if the CMC provided at least a plot of land. “We had decided to set up a mortuary near College Street, but residents of the area protested.”

Municipal commissioner Alapan Bandyopadhyay said on Tuesday that setting up mortuaries was “nobody’s business”. But he did promise that the CMC would take the initiative in addressing the shortage. “It does not mean, though, that the civic authorities will start setting up mortuaries. We will help or sponsor private parties, NGOs or even clubs that are willing to set up and run such facilities.”

Till such time, those like the Ghosh family will need to queue up in front of Peace Haven and hope there aren’t three bodies inside already.