A video showing decomposed bodies, allegedly of Covid-19 victims, being loaded into a van by the city's civic body in daylight for cremation went viral on social media on Thursday, but authorities termed it "fake".
The video also showed protests by locals at Garia, a suburb in the southern fringes of the city where the incident had allegedly taken place, who claimed that the bodies were those of novel coronavirus victims.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar expressed concern over the video and sought a report regarding the incident from the state home secretary.
The West Bengal Health Department and the city police said the video was "fake" and that the bodies were unclaimed ones from a hospital morgue.
The video showed personnel of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation loading the decomposed bodies into a van allegedly outside Garia crematorium. It also showed locals objecting to the cremation of a number of decomposed bodies at the same 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.
The Kolkata Police dismissed as "rumours" the claim that the bodies were those of COVID-19 victims. "The West Bengal Health Department has informed that the dead bodies were not of COVID patients, but were unclaimed/ unidentified bodies from Hospital Morgue. Legal action is being taken against persons spreading #FakeNews", it said.
The principal of NRS Medical College, Saibal Kumar Mukherjee, wrote to Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma that 14 unclaimed bodies were handed over to the 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.
Dhankhar said in a tweet, "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."
In yet another post in the micro-blogging site, the governor said "Response @HomeSecretaryWB 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."
Assuring people that he would look into the incident, the city mayor Firhad Hakim said that the bodies of novel coronavirus victims in the city are cremated at a separate burning ground at Dhapa in its eastern fringes.
The opposition CPI(M) and BJP criticised the state government and alleged that the "video clip is a proof of the TMC trying to hide the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in the state".
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said it must be ascertained whether the bodies are of those who died of COVID-19. The corpses that were kept in the crematorium appeared to be more than a month old, he said.
"I have earlier said that the real number of COVID-19 deaths in West Bengal are being suppressed," he told newspersons at the party's state headquarter here.