Business of last rites: Private operators charge as much as ₹30,000

Relatives wearing PPE kits arriving to perform last rites of their loved ones at a crematorium in Chamarajpet.   | Photo Credit: K. Bhagya Prakash

Relatives of a 57-year-old man, who died of COVID-19 at St. John’s Hospital on Wednesday, were shattered when just a few hours later, another family member died in a road accident on the outskirts of the city. However, a helpline, launched that day itself by the BBMP and the district administration, for bereaved families came to their aid.

The helpline team not only arranged for an ambulance to ferry the body but also ensured that the deceased were cremated as members of the family (names withheld on request) could not be physically present.

Complaints of extortion

In the absence of a regulatory body, these fly-by-night operations have sprung up, charging people much as ₹30,000 to cremate their loved ones. People offering these services usually live stream the cremation or burial ceremony, and send the death certificate to the family.

Many private operators prey on the elderly or families where multiple members have COVID-19 and cannot perform the last rites themselves. A few days ago, an elderly woman and single mother from Chamarajpet lost her 28-year-old son to COVID-19. He had high fever and breathlessness and died before he could get medical aid. As the woman mourned her son, and wondered what she could do as she was in isolation because of COVID-19, a private ambulance driver offered to take care of the last rites and formalities for ₹30,000.

“In some instances, conmen are taking advantage of the bereaved and robbing them of their money. And because they are coping with personal tragedy and loss, most families don’t register complaints with the police, but we know that this is happening,” said a senior police official.

Shortage of ambulances

Though the BBMP offers this service free, many people say that it’s not easy to avail of it as ambulances aren’t available. “We could not get a government ambulance or a slot anywhere to cremate our 33-year-old cousin. We finally hired a private ambulance which went to T R Mill Crematorium and from there to the one at Tavarekere. It cost us ₹30,000,” said one family member.

In some cases, ambulance drivers also demand money. A 39-year old private firm employee succumbed to COVID-19 while taking care of his father who had also contracted the virus. He died in their house on Bannerghatta Road last week and though the parents were able to avail of a BBMP ambulance, the driver asked them for ₹4,000.

BBMP and district officials are aware of the problem but can take action only if relatives file a complaint.“We have displayed contact numbers on vehicles so that people can call and register a complaint if the driver demands money. However we have not received a single complaint so far,” said a BBMP official.

New helpline

In the backdrop of an increasing number of reports of people being cheated by ambulance and hearse van drivers, waiting in queues outside crematoriums, and unable to get a BBMP ambulance, the civic body launched the helpline (8495 99 8495) on Wednesday.

J. Manjunath, Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru (Urban) district, said the district administration along with the BBMP, civil defence personnel and volunteers set up the helpline to manage ambulance and hearse van services round the clock.

Citizens can provide details of the deceased on WhatsApp as well. They will be provided with a vehicle free of cost, and given a fixed time so they don’t have to wait in a queue for hours on end.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 6:27:17 PM |

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