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Delhi Govt Allows Use of Wood for Cremating Covid-19 Victims as Bodies Pile Up at Crematoriums

Representative Image. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

Representative Image. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

The Delhi High Court took suo motu cognisance regarding the backlog in disposing bodies of Covid-19 victims owing to non-functioning of CNG furnaces at the crematoriums in Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh, and said that the same is "violative of the rights of the dead".

  • News18.com New Delhi
  • Last Updated: May 29, 2020, 10:14 AM IST
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New challenges have emerged before the Delhi government with the growing cases of novel coronavirus in the national capital. With spike in Covid-19 cases, a surge in the death toll is also being witnessed, resulting to the piling up of bodies at the crematoriums.

So far, Delhi has registered a total of 16,281 Covid-19 cases and 316 deaths.

Hence to ease the load, since Thursday, four crematoriums run by the Delhi civic bodies have started using wood to cremate bodies of coronavirus confirmed and suspected patients, officials confirmed. The move was necessitated because only two of the six CNG-run furnaces were operating and bodies of Covid patients were piling up with crematoriums returning them as they were unable to take the load, reported Hindustan Times.

Earlier, cremating bodies of Covid-19 patients using wood was restricted due to the fear of possible spread of the virus in the air.

Hindustan Times had reported on Thursday how with only two CNG furnaces working, bodies were piling at the mortuary of largest dedicated Covid-19 hospital, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) in the city. Inside the mortuary, there are 108 bodies. All 80 storage racks are full and there are 28 bodies on the floor, piled on top of each other.

A third furnace was made functional on Wednesday night, said officials. Meanwhile, staff at a crematorium at the Nigambodh Ghat said that it will take them at least two months to repair the other three furnaces.

On Wednesday, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the nodal agency for managing cremations of Covid-19 patients, directed four crematoriums in Kardardooma, Nigambodh Ghat, Rani Jhansi Road and Punjabi Bagh to use wood for cremating bodies of Covid-19 victims.

The heads of the standing committees of Delhi's three municipal corporations -- NDMC, SDMC, EDMC -- in a joint statement had said, in view of the coronavirus pandemic, instructions have been issued to streamline arrangements at crematoria and burial sites. Officials have been told to look into the feasibility of having a separate block to conduct cremation with wood, the joint statement said.

Directions have been issued to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) kits to civic staff working at cremation ghats, it said.

Preference must be given to use of the CNG furnace, the order copy marked to the South and the East municipal bodies signed by the North civic body’s health officer, reads.

Rani Jhansi crematorium, which has started taking bodies of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases after the order was issued, cremated 15 bodies until Thursday using woods, following strict guidelines.

Sultan Singh, the in-charge of the crematorium, explained that only one member of the deceased’s family is being allowed to light the pyre and that one member has to wear masks and follow safety guidelines.

“We have just started dealing with Covid-19 cases. We allow only one member of the family near the body to light the pyre. Even that one relative has to wear mask and take other precautions. The priests handling such bodies also wear masks and gloves. Nobody opens the body that is wrapped in a personal protective equipment suit. It is directly kept on top of a pile of wood and covered for the final rites. There is no contact with the body. It is a new thing for us. We are following the government’s orders,” Singh told Hindustan Times.

Speaking on the same, Suman Gupta from the Nigambodh Ghat Sanchalan Samiti, said that since the order was received, 15 bodies using wood and five in the CNG furnace were cremated. “We are worried but what can we do if the government refuses to listen. There are rows of bodies cremated through the wood in the open. We are worried about the smoke. It could be dangerous. The lives of our 70 workers and 100 priests are at risk. The cremation in the CNG furnace was controlled and happened in an isolated section. Outsiders were not allowed inside. Now the Covid-19 bodies are being cremated in the open, sometimes side by side too. We are only doing it because of the government’s orders.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sudhir Gupta, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology, AIIMS said that cremating bodies of coronavirus patients using wood is completely safe.

“It is perfectly safe to dispose of the body through the wood-based method. The temperature maintained is the same as that of the CNG furnace. One must follow the guidelines that the government has issued such as not coming in contact with the body, wearing masks and gloves. The precautions that one adopts at the CNG furnace must be adopted in the wood-based system too,” Hindustan Times quoted Dr Gupta as saying.

Avtar Singh, the mayor of the North Delhi civic body also said the process is safe and approved by the central government. “Cremating bodies using wood is not harmful. It is being done to clear the backlog and expedite cremations. We adopted the process so that the families of those who died do not have to wait for days for the final rites,” he said.

On Thursday, the Delhi High Court had expressed its dissatisfaction over the current state of affairs and took suo motu cognisance regarding the backlog in disposing bodies of Covid-19 victims owing to non-functioning of CNG furnaces at the crematoriums in Delhi's Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh, and said that the same is "violative of the rights of the dead".

Expressing displeasure and anger while taking note of the situation, the court said, "We, as citizens of Delhi are pained at the aforesaid state of affairs and as judges find the situation as reported and if true, to be highly dissatisfactory and violative of the rights of the dead."


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