Private agencies minting money on COVID-19 victims

Anything upward of ₹30,000 is charged for disposal of each body, at the same time claiming to be doing the job on behalf of GHMC

July 21, 2020 10:58 pm | Updated 11:03 pm IST - HYDERABAD

A victim of COVID-19 being taken for last rites.

A victim of COVID-19 being taken for last rites.

Misery is no exception for exploitation, as can be vouched by the business flourishing over the corpses of persons who died of COVID-19 infection.

Private agencies are charging anything upward of ₹30,000 for disposal of each body, right under the nose of GHMC which is largely responsible for cremation of COVID-19 dead bodies. What’s more, the agencies are doing it in the name of GHMC!

“I am authorised by the GHMC to dispose of the COVID-19 dead bodies. The money I collect too is approved by the corporation. We have to spend a lot on ambulance, PPE gear for the handlers and the relatives, and funeral charges,” says Sk Vali, a person who is involved in the business. Ramanjeet Singh, a Good Samaritan ensuring decent funeral services for the COVID-19 dead bodies, says he was forced to shell out ₹25,000 for each body he helped dispose.

“We were told to deposit the amount purportedly in the account of a GHMC Health official, and that the money would go to the committee constituted by GHMC for dead body disposal. How can the corporation collect random charges without a government order for the same?” Mr. Singh questioned. Officials responsible flatly deny that the corporation has authorised anybody for the job. They, however, admit that GHMC is handling dead bodies from government hospitals alone. “We are taking care of COVID-19 dead bodies only from Gandhi Hospital, Osmania General Hospital, King Koti Hospital, Chest Hospital, and NIMS. While we had handled bodies from private hospitals too earlier when deaths were only in single digit numbers, now it is not possible,” said an official.

GHMC too is now getting the job done by contractors, chosen through open tenders, officials informed. However, the corporation has not authorised anybody to offer it as commercial service, they say. Elaborate guidelines issued by the government in April stipulated that the private hospitals should work in coordination with GHMC officials, and the police for disposal of dead bodies. Hospital level committees should be formed with GHMC deputy commissioners and Assistant Commissioners of Police as members. Committee constituted by government to ensure adherence to these guidelines, is hardly monitoring the process now.

Private agencies are cashing in on the helplessness of the kin who are left with little choice owing to the stigma associated with COVID-19, and the reluctance of local people surrounding several grave yards in city to allow cremation of the bodies. Instead of getting the grave yards opened through its Enforcement wing, GHMC is merely playing spectator to people’s misery.

Cremation ground near ESI is the only place as of now where COVID-19 dead bodies are streaming in, be it through government or private agency.

GHMC Commissioner D.S. Lokesh Kumar, when sought his version, said the disposal of dead bodies is not handed over to any outside agency, and that the corporation is still doing the job.

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