Locals residing in Chausa, a small town in Bihar’s Buxar district woke up to the grim sight of decomposing corpses splayed along the Mahadev Ghat along river Ganga. Residents who first spotted the “swollen and decayed” dead bodies sounded the alarm following which the local administration began their investigation. The small-town borders neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) from where local officials believe the dead bodies had washed up from.
Buxar’s Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) KK Upadhyay addressed the local media on 10 May 2021 where he said, “These bodies are arriving from someplace and it needs to accurately be ascertained from where. We need to find out if the corpses are floating from Bahraich, Varanasi or Allahabad.” The SDO made efforts to dispel any notion that the bodies were local. He clarified, “We do not have any tradition of immersing dead bodies, to it can be ruled out that the dead bodies were not dumped here locally.” The official further elaborated that, “It seems that these corpses have remained afloat for more or less a week as dead bodies do not swell up to this level so quickly.”
Was this a case of COVID-19 patients who could not be cremated?
It has been speculated that these corpses may have been of Coronavirus patients whose families were unable to find a designated crematorium site in Uttar Pradesh ruled by Yogi Adityanath of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Crematoriums across the country are operating far beyond their capacity, with burial workers reporting that they are increasingly overworked and emotionally drained with the mounting number of deceased in the region. The spurt in pandemic related deaths have also affected the expenditure related to cremating loved ones. The cost of holding a funeral in accordance with religious customs having leap frogged to exorbitant proportions.
Conflicting accounts between Buxar officials and locals
The town’s locals have claimed to have witnessed more than 100 corpses however officials give a far more modest assessment of 40-50 washed up bodies. Eyewitness accounts indicate that stray dogs have begun prowling towards the decaying corpses and several locals have highlighted their fears that if the dogs eat parts of the corpses, then they will spread coronavirus in their town.’ The local administration however has dealt with local grievances and has assured its people that the situation is being dealt with. “All plots, villages and panchayats at the riverbanks and their respective administrators have been notified that we are making sure that the dead bodies from those ghats do not arrive here and to ensure that locals do not have to endure the stench from the pile of corpses and run the risk of contracting any type of disease,” Upadhyay told the local press.
The Government has cremation guidelines
The Government of India (GOI) has pre-existing guidelines pertaining to the cremation of the COVID-19 victims. These regulations include the basic COVID appropriate behaviour such as maintaining social distancing and hand hygiene. The guidelines further highlight the need to wear masks and gloves when handling corpses. The governments regulations dictate that physical contact and bathing the deceased be strictly prohibited. The Buxar administration has announced their plans to bury the dead bodies in a dignified manner. “We will get them buried,” concluded the divisional officer in press conference.
State administrations passing the buck
However, despite media assurances, officials from UP and Bihar have found themselves in a bitter squabble over the status of the corpses with both state administrations trying to pin the blame on the other. UP and Bihar are some of the most Coronavirus affected states, with this latest development painting a sordid picture of despair, disdain, and a collective administrative failure. Yogi Adityanath took cognisance of bodies only on Wednesday.