Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, the director general of National Mission for Clean Ganga and the head of Namami Gange, has admitted that bodies were dumped along the banks of Ganga when India’s Covid-19 crisis had reached horrific proportions during the second wave between April and May, The Indian Express reported on Friday.
The book, titled Ganga: Reimagining, Rejuvenating, Reconnecting, authored by Mishra and Puskal Upadhyay who has worked with the National Mission for Clean Ganga, mentioned that the problem was restricted to only Uttar Pradesh.
During the height of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in May, reports emerged from multiple cities along the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh about bodies floating in the river or buried along its banks. The corpses were suspected to be of Covid-19 patients whose final rites could not be performed at crematoriums due to the huge rise in deaths at the time.
The book was launched on Thursday by Bibek Debroy, the chairperson of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.
“As the number of bodies swelled and multiplied because of the Covid-19 pandemic, overwhelming district administrations and stretching the functional limits of crematoria and burning ghats of UP and Bihar, the Ganga became an easy dumping ground for the dead,” reads a section of the book, titled “Floating Corpses: A River Defiled”.
However, the authors rejected media reports that said over 1,000 bodies were dumped, and claimed that the number was not more than 300.
“After reading the reports of various district magistrates and panchayat committees, I realized that the number of bodies dumped into the river was no more than 300 (definitely not the 1,000 plus reported by a section of the media),” read a portion of the book.
He added that the problem was between Kannauj and Baliya. “…the bodies found in Bihar were also those floating from UP,” wrote the authors.
In the book, Mishra recalls the time he heard about the corpses. “I was recuperating from a severe Covid-19 attack in the Gurugram-based Medanta, a super-speciality hospital when I heard about the unclaimed, half-burnt and swollen corpses floating in the holy Ganga in early May.”
He described the “macabre images” as a “traumatic and heart-breaking experience” for him.
“As the Director General of the NMCG, my job is to be the custodian of the health of the Ganga, to rejuvenate its flow, ensure its return to its pristine purity and to ensure the same for its tributaries after years of neglect,” Mishra wrote in the book, according to The Indian Express.
The book also highlighted the poor Covid-19 management during the second wave, but accused miscreants of using the situation to release the bodies into the Ganga river.
“Poor management of funeral services, miscreants taking advantage of the situation to dump bodies into the river instead of cremating them, and adverse publicity from the media only added to our discomfort and helplessness,” the book said.
The horrific images triggered a health scare as well as a political blame game between state governments.
In June, several bodies that were buried in the sandbanks of the Ganga river in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj district floated up as the water level rose due to monsoon rains.
India’s healthcare infrastructure had crumbled under the pressure of the second wave, leading to a massive surge in cases and deaths. The daily count of infections had crossed the 3-lakh mark and even touched 4 lakh on a few days in May. The toll was in thousands but several reports alleged that the fatalities were underreported.
However, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath in June claimed that his government had managed to tackle the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic well given the predictions of health experts. When asked about the dumping of bodies along river banks, the chief minister had said that burial by the river was a long-standing tradition of those living nearby.