The National Human Rights Commission on Friday released an advisory to the Union government, all the states and Union Territories, calling for a special law to uphold the dignity of the dead amid multiple reports of bodies being buried along the banks of the river Ganga.

In the last week, thousands of bodies have been found, some either floating in the river or buried along the banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

The human rights body also sent a detailed advisory to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and states and Union Territories in this regard.

There are no specific laws in India to protect the rights of the dead. However, NHRC pointed out that there were several international covenants, Supreme Court and High Court rulings and guidelines issued by various governments to highlight the need to maintain coronavirus-related protocol and give a decent burial or cremations based on the religious customs and practices of those who died.

“Piling up of dead bodies during the transportation or at any other place must not be allowed to happen,” the human rights body said. “Encourage use of electric crematoriums; Mass burial/ cremation should not be allowed to take place as it is in violation of the right to dignity of the dead.”

The human rights commission also said it was the duty of the states to “protect the rights of the deceased and crime over the dead body and prepare a SOP [standard operating procedure] in consultation with all stakeholders”.

It also asked authorities to urgently set up temporary crematoriums in view of a large number of Covid-related deaths and the long queues seen at burial and cremation grounds. So far, more than 2.6 lakh people have died due to the infection in the country.

India has been reeling under the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country has reported more than 3 lakh cases a day every day for the past three weeks, since April 22.

On May 1, it hit a new record by crossing the 4-lakh mark, the highest single-day tally by any country in the world. This was surpassed on May 7, when India recorded 4.14 lakh daily cases. So far in May, India’s daily tally has crossed the 4-lakh mark on five days. Thousands have died every day, but reports allege that the government was severely undercounting Covid-19 deaths.

Follow today’s updates on the Covid-19 crisis here

The human rights body on Friday recommended using electric crematoriums to avoid health hazards emerging from the emission of smoke from the pyres.

“In order to ensure that dignity is upheld during handling of bodies, the cremation/burial ground staff must be sensitised about proper handling of the body,” the advisory said. “Further, they need to be provided necessary safety equipment and facilities so that they may perform their duty efficiently without any fear or risk.”

The advisory said that the state or local administration can perform the last rites keeping in mind the religious factors in cases where the family members cannot do so, fearing the spread of infections or if they were already infected.

The human rights body also asked the Centre and states to maintain a district-wise digital dataset of all the deaths and suggested creating an online portal for it. It said that all digital information of the Covid or non-Covid deaths should be updated such as the Aadhar Card, bank account and insurance details of those dead.

The advisory came after the complaint was lodged with the NHRC on the dead bodies found floating in Ganga since earlier this week. The human rights body had issued notices to the Centre and the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on the matter.

Horrific scenes had emerged from these states since the beginning of the week. On Thursday, seven bodies were found floating in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi district. Earlier on Wednesday, multiple bodies were found buried in sand in at least two locations along the Ganga river in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.

On Tuesday, unidentified bodies, suspected to be of coronavirus patients, were found floating in river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur district. Later that day, a similar incident was reported fromMadhya Pradesh’s Panna district.

On Monday, floating bodies in the Ganga in Buxar district of Bihar had caused panic among the residents. While some reports said there were around 10 to 12 bodies, others said there were 40-45 corpses. Some reports placed the number even higher, at 150 bodies.

On Sunday, several videos showed corpses, also believed to be of Covid-19 patients, floating in the Yamuna river near Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh.

A public interest litigation was also filed before the Supreme Court on Thursday, seeking to set up a special investigating team to supervise the inquiry into the matter.

Bodies of suspected Covid-19 victims are seen in shallow graves buried in the sand near a cremation ground on the banks of Ganges River in Rautapur Ganga Ghat, in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district on May 13. Credit: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP

More than 2,000 bodies found in UP: ‘Dainik Bhaskar’

Over 2,000 bodies have been found floating or buried in an 1,140 km stretch along the river Ganga, the Dainik Bhaskar reported on Friday. The stretch covers 27 districts along Ganga before the river enters Bihar.

In a ground report carried out by 30 reporters, the Hindi daily found that the situation was grim in Kanpur, Unnao, Ghazipur, Ballia and Kannauj districts.

The newspaper found that more than 900 corpses alone were buried in the sand in at least two locations of the Unnao district – near the Shuklagunj ghat and the Buxar ghat.

In Kanpur, 400 corpses were found near the Sereshwar ghat. Dainik Bhaskar reported that the police buried the bodies after being informed about them.

More than 350 bodies were buried near Kannauj’s Mahadevi ghat. The newspaper said that the administration was burying the bodies so that “no one can see them”.

A worker at the ghat said that bodies that were buried near the river were released when the water level rose and they therefore floated away to other districts.

About 70 corpses were found in Fatehpur, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Chandoli, Mirzapur and Bhadohi. According to Dainik Bhaskar, more than 280 bodies had been found till Friday.

Adityanath government orders patrolling of river bank

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath on Friday ordered the State Disaster Response Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary to conduct patrolling in an attempt to prevent dumping of bodies in rivers, reported PTI.

Adityanath said that committees should be formed, including village development officers and village heads, in areas that fall on the banks of rivers. “All those who died deserve cremation with respect,” he said. “The state government has already sanctioned funds for performing the last rites.”

The chief minister said that dumping of the bodies also leads to water pollution in rivers. “The government is also running a special campaign for the cleaning of rivers,” he said. “Home, Urban and Rural Development Departments should make a policy to prevent it.”

Meanwhile, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter headed by a High Court judge, saying what was happening was inhuman and criminal.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also criticised the state government, saying the Adityanath-led dispensation must be held accountable for “failing” its people badly.