Bodies of COVID-19 victims among those dumped in India's Ganges -gov't document
By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Corpses of COVID-19 victims have been found dumped in some Indian rivers, according to a letter from the state government published by Reuters in the first official recognition of the alarming practice that may be attributed to poverty and fear of them is the disease in remote areas.
Images of corpses drifting down the Ganges, considered sacred in Hinduism, have shocked the country, ending up amid the world's worst spike in COVID-19 cases.
Although media reports have linked the surge in the number of bodies swimming in the river and its tributaries in recent days to the pandemic, India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, has so far not publicly disclosed the cause of the disease deaths .
"The government has information that bodies of people who have died of COVID-19 or some other disease are being dumped into rivers instead of being disposed of following appropriate rituals," a senior civil servant, Manoj Kumar Singh, said in a letter dated Jan. May to district manager, which was reviewed by Reuters.
"As a result, bodies were recovered from rivers in many places."
Singh was not immediately available for comment.
Confirmation comes when Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called on officials to bolster health resources and step up surveillance in rural areas as the virus is spreading rapidly in these areas following the devastation of cities. [L1N2N2023]
Home to more people than Brazil or Pakistan, Uttar Pradesh has been hard hit by India's dramatic second surge in COVID-19 cases. Health experts say many cases are currently going undetected in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, where most of the people live.
Singh said in the memo to district leaders that a lack of funds to purchase materials such as firewood for cremation, religious beliefs in some communities and families leaving COVID-19 victims for fear of the disease were among the likely reasons for the increase in body dumping.
He urged village-level officials to ensure no bodies are thrown into the water, and said the state government would pay poor families of the dead 5,000 rupees (US $ 68) to cremate or bury bodies. The state has also asked police to patrol rivers to stop the practice.
India has officially reported around 4,000 deaths from the disease every day for almost two weeks. However, health experts say the number of victims is likely to be much higher due to poor testing in rural areas and other factors.
The rise in deaths has resulted in residues in crematoria in many places and multiplied the cost of the final rites.
Uttar Pradesh spokesman Navneet Sehgal denied local media reports on Saturday that up to 2,000 bodies of potential COVID-19 victims had been recovered from rivers in the state and neighboring Bihar in recent days.
"We recover 10 to 20 bodies every now and then," Sehgal told Reuters, adding that some river villages did not cremate their dead due to Hindu traditions in times of religious importance.
Bihar officials did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma; Editing by Euan Rocha, William Maclean)
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Manoj Kumar Singh
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