The Union Jal Shakti Ministry on Monday told the Rajya Sabha that it had no information on the number of bodies found floating in the Ganga river during the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic between April and June last year.

During those three months, 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.

In response to a question on the number of such bodies, Minister of State for Jal Shakti Bishweswar Tudu told the Rajya Sabha on Monday: “The information regarding number of Covid-19 related dead bodies estimated to have been dumped in the river Ganga is not available.”

Tudu, however, noted that there were media reports about “unclaimed or unidentified, burnt or partially burnt dead bodies” found floating in the river or in the shallow depths and banks of the Ganga in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The minister said that the National Mission for Clean Ganga and the Jal Shakti Ministry has sought reports from state governments on the matter.

Tudu said that his ministry and the National Mission for Clean Ganga have issued advisories to the chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and all District Ganga Committees to ensure proper handling, management and disposal of dead bodies.

According to the minister, the measures had resulted in coordinated action by the states in cremating bodies as per the Centre’s protocols. The measures also helped to provide financial assistance to “deserving families for cremation of dead bodies”, patrolling of the river channels and its banks and community awareness on river water to prevent the spread of infection in view of Covid-19, Tudu said.

In December, Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, whose term as the director general of National Mission for Clean Ganga ended on December 31, had admitted that bodies were dumped along the banks of Ganga during the second wave. In 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.

“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.