A video of decomposed bodies, allegedly of COVID-19 patients, being loaded into a van by civic body workers in the city for cremation was widely shared on social media on Thursday, prompting the authorities to dismiss the claims.
The video also showed protests by locals of Garia, a suburb in the southern fringes of the city where the incident had allegedly taken place, who claimed that the bodies were of coronavirus victims.
The West Bengal Health Department and the Kolkata Police, however, dismissed the claim that the bodies were of COVID-19 victims as "fake" and "rumours". They said the bodies were lying unclaimed at a city morgue.
"The West Bengal Health Department has informed that dead bodies were not of COVID patients, but were unclaimed/unidentified bodies from Hospital Morgue. Legal action is being taken against persons spreading Fake News," the Kolkata Police tweeted.
Meanwhile, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar expressed concerns over the video and sought a report on the incident from the state home secretary.
"Anguished at the disposal of dead bodies with heartless indescribable insensitivity. Not sharing videos due to sensitivity. In our society, the dead body is accorded highest respect - rituals are performed as per tradition," he said in a tweet.
In yet another post in the micro-blogging site, the governor said, "Response Home Secretary of West Bengal has come. Virtual admission about callous handling of dead bodies promising procedure will be streamlined. Rather than booking those responsible for such inhuman criminality, the police are being misused to 'teach a lesson' to those who exposed it."
The video showed personnel of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation loading decomposed bodies into a van allegedly outside the Garia crematorium. It also showed locals objecting to the cremation of all the bodies at one place.
According to the locals, the cremation of so many decomposed bodies of COVID-19 patients at the crematorium located in the vicinity of a densely populated locality at a time when the city is witnessing rising cases of the contagion would harm public health.
After the video surfaced, NRS Medical College principal Saibal Kumar Mukherjee wrote to Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma that 14 unclaimed bodies were handed over to KMC as per the list provided by different police stations under the jurisdiction of the hospital's morgue.
"And none of these bodies were of COVID patients. The subject of this video is fake, and you may take necessary action in this regard," Mukherjee said in his letter.
The opposition CPI(M) and the BJP also criticised the state government and alleged that the "video clip is a proof of TMC trying to hide the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in the state".
City mayor Firhad Hakim said he would look into the incident and added that bodies of novel coronavirus victims in the city were being cremated at a separate burning ground at Dhapa in its eastern fringes.