Anil Mahanand says that in his five years as caretaker of the Marwadi muktidham (crematorium) in Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur, he hasn’t seen so many lonely pyres burning at once. “In most cases, family members either don’t come or don’t stay for long. Everyone’s scared for their lives,” says the 30-year-old.
With around 100 Covid deaths being recorded every day since April 10, with Raipur and Durg districts seeing the highest toll, Chhattisgarh has been reeling under the second wave of the pandemic.
Since March 2020, the state has recorded 5,442 deaths. But the fatality rate of 1.54 per cent in April is much higher than the 0.75 per cent recorded during last year’s peak in October. The state is the third highest in terms of active cases (1,21,769 cases as of April 15), only behind Maharashtra and UP. So far, most of the deaths have been concentrated in the major district headquarters, since severe patients get referred to hospitals here.
This month, there have been several reports of mortuaries running out of space, with bodies waiting to be identified and claimed. At the mortuary of Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Hospital in Raipur, the body of a Covid patient has remained unidentified for more than two months, officials said.
“We have had cases of bodies being dumped at the premises. We test all bodies for Covid, and most of them have tested positive. Not only does it become a medico-legal case, we also have to wait for at least a week before disposing of the bodies,” said a morgue staff.
The municipal corporation stepped in on Monday, launching 15 new crematoriums and enhancing the capacity and efficiency of existing burial grounds and crematoriums.
Deputy Municipal Commissioner Pulak Bhattacharya said they have also had to deal with protests from residents who don’t want bodies of Covid victims to be cremated or buried in their areas.
“We have had to cajole, counsel, and even threaten several resident groups with action. There have been instances of people creating a ruckus if they even saw a medical vehicle. The bodies are cremated with all precautions and in contained spaces,” said Bhattacharya, adding that they have set up SOPs to handle burials and cremations.
“We have set up channels with hospitals in the city, who alert us as soon as a death is recorded. The deceased is then allotted a crematorium or a burial ground, and the family is informed. After that, the body is taken to the crematorium, where family members can come if they want to,” he said.
Mahanand, the caretaker of the Marwadi muktidham, says that in the case of a loss as sudden as in Covid, it’s hard to convince the bereaved to follow protocol. “Family members plead with us to let them touch the body, or see the body one last time. It’s difficult, but we have to firmly say no,” he says.