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Health Scare in Jharkhand's Ramgarh as Locals Allege Disposal of Covid-19 Positive Bodies, PPE Kits in Damodar River

Visual from a crematorium ground near the Damodar river that shows bodies being burned.

Visual from a crematorium ground near the Damodar river that shows bodies being burned.

Some visuals have appeared from a crematorium ground near the Damodar river that shows bodies being burned and then the remains being flushed in complete violation of all norms and regulations.

A worrying case related to alleged hazardous disposal of corona-positive bodies has come to the fore in Ramgarh district of Jharkhand. Some visuals have appeared from a crematorium ground near the Damodar river that shows bodies being burned and then the remains being flushed in complete violation of all norms and regulations.

According to the visuals doing the rounds, the body is being burned very close to the river. In addition to this, the medical waste including PPE kits are being disposed of in Damodar river, the main source of water supply for Ramgarh district.

Such careless handling of the cremation and the medical waste related to Covid-19 cases has resulted in panic among locals who live nearby.

Ramgarh district has a population of around 9.49 lakhs including two major army cantonments (Punjab regiment and Sikh regiment) and one police line. And, Damodar river’s water is being supplied to the whole district.

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The last corona-positive body was allegedly burned on September 15, 2020 at Damodar river ghat. The body was brought from Nai Sarai Hospital, Ramgarh. According to witnesses, after burning the body, the used gloves, masks, and PPE kits were thrown into the river by the hospital staff. This ghat is hardly 400 metres away from a residential colony where around four thousand people are living presently.

Locals claim that most of these bodies come from the Nai Sarai hospital. This is the ghat earmarked by the local authorities for burning bodies of patients who died from corona infection.

47-year-old Rishi Kumar who is a tailor by profession lives in the Ramgarh cantonment zone. He accused the administration of not taking any step in the matter. “We are using the water where corona dead bodies are being burned and flushed as well. The hospital administration is washing stretchers and throwing PPE kits into the river. Instead of taking immediate action, the state government is playing with our lives. They are not doing anything to stop this practice. If it would have not stopped it could be a human disaster,” says Rishi Kumar.

The reporter tried to contact the additional collector of Ramgarh district, Jugnu Minj, who had issued the order of corona cremations being carried out at Damodar Ghat. However, he did not respond to her calls or messages despite repeated attempts.

Damodar river is notorious for being one of the most polluted rivers of the country. A body named Damodar Bachao Movement, that has been active in demanding cleansing of Ramgarh’s lifeline, has also raised the recent concern of careless disposal of bodies during the pandemic with the administration.

Professor Sanjay Singh, a member of the Damodar Bachao Movement, says, “People use direct water for indoor and outdoor household purposes like washing clothes and dishes, preparing food, bathing, and even washing animals too.

Those who have homes near the Damodar Ghat are struggling for clean water which is considered a basic necessity to live. Nevertheless, people don’t want to join the matter as they think speaking against the administration could be harmful to them."

On being contacted, Dr Nitin Madan Kulkarni, principal secretary of health and family welfare in the government of Jharkhand, denied any mishandling. He says, “It’s absolutely false news. All bodies are disposed of under administrative supervision.”

Dr Anurag Srivastava, head of the surgery department at AIIMS, says “It is very dangerous to cremate coronavirus positive bodies in an open space. People who live in the area might be affected after inhaling the smoke coming out from the body. Also, unburnt viruses in fire flakes can affect anyone, especially those who are standing at the cremation spot."

Dr Srivastava also explains how harmful it could be to flush corona-positive bodies into the water. “People who are consuming this water may also get affected by corona,” he says.

Jharkhand recorded 1,492 fresh Covid-19 cases on September 20. According to the state government, 72,673 cases have been registered and 617 people have died so far. Including Jharkhand’s health and agriculture ministers, many ministers have tested positive for the coronavirus.