Overwhelmed with bodies, small crematoriums face meltdown

The Subhash Nagar crematorium in west Delhi.  

While most cremation grounds in the city are already overwhelmed with bodies, the smaller ones dedicated to COVID victims are seeing additional problems.

In the lesser-known cremation grounds, the staffers are finding it difficult to control the barrage of COVID positive relatives of victims.

Varsha Mehta, a Dwarka resident, who went to the Subhash Nagar ground to cremate her husband Sandeep Mehta said she and her son Tushar were both COVID positive. “There is no one to help us with cremation. My husband died in a hospital and his body had to be moved,” she said.

While the hospital told the family that there was a tie-up with the cremation ground and therefore the body was released, the crematorium was full in the afternoon. “We have been waiting for an hour and they are saying the ground is full. The body has been in the ambulance for over two hours,” she said.

BP Rawat, president of Janshakti NGO, which runs the cremation ground, said people should be aware enough to not visit public places if they are infected. “We have a staff of about 30 people managing cremations, wood and coordination. It is impossible to keep a track of people coming in and so many of them are COVID positive,” he said.

Dr. Rawat added that the ground can accommodate 40 cremations on wooden pyres and about 16 a day at the CNG crematorium inside. “Unfortunately, we have to refuse after we reach our limit. What to do?” he said, as a staffer turned away a man. “Thank God, we didn’t get the body released from the hospital,” the man said.

Dr. Rawat added, “Even if it’s a lesser-known cremation ground, we have to stop taking bodies around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. because we are full by then. Every day, our staff can leave only by 1 a.m.,” he said.

Sitting in an e-rickshaw, waiting to cremate her father’s body, was 18-year-old Sukanya and her mother. “My father was killed by the healthcare system and not COVID. I remember going to arrange oxygen for him at 3 a.m. and have it delivered in the hospital, but his pneumonia was diagnosed much later,” she said.

A ‘non-COVID’ cremation ground in Tilak Vihar wore a deserted look on the outside. But inside, all the 25 wooden pyres were burning at the Shamshan Bhumi Sudha Samiti.

About 10 days ago, we were getting one or two bodies, said head priest Ashok Kumar Sharma. “Since then, we have been getting many bodies on a daily basis. People start queuing up at 5.30 a.m. and by 7 a.m., there is a crowd. As soon as we have 25 people, we stop. This usually happens around 11 p.m.,” he said.

Denying COVID

Mr. Sharma said the surge in the number of bodies makes him wonder that these could be COVID positive people dying at home. “We ask people if the person died of COVID, but they deny because they know we wouldn’t accept otherwise. We then have our own ways to ascertain whether the person is lying. We ask ambulance drivers, see if anyone is wearing PPE kits or if they are maintaining distance from the body,” he said.

But the fear always hovers, said another staffer Balbir Singh. “We don’t touch the bodies at all. Family members themselves have to place the body on the pyre. That is our way of taking precautions because we are sure some COVID positive bodies are coming in,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 8:32:13 PM |

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