Officially, Ghaziabad has reported just two “Covid-related deaths” so far in April. Yet, on Saturday, when HT visited the Hindon cremation ground in the district, the facility was struggling to cope with the deluge of bodies reaching there. A person at the ground said nearly 60 bodies arrived on Friday, and at least 15 were meant for the electric crematorium, for cremation as per Covid protocols. The situation was no less grim on Saturday — the facility received about 38-40 more bodies, with about eight to 10 meant for the electric furnace.
But with the electric crematorium, maintained by the Ghaziabad municipal corporation, going out of order on Friday night, several bodies had to be cremated on Friday on the footpath of the road leading from the ground to the post-mortem house. HT on Saturday spotted charred remains, with garlands placed over them, on the pavement located behind the ground.
While the mismatch between the official figures and the situation on the ground is glaring, district officials insisted that only two people have died of the infection this month, while 104 have succumbed to the infection in the district so far.
Dr NK Gupta, chief medical officer (CMO), Ghaziabad, said, “We have only two Covid-related deaths which have taken place in the district in the month of April. Our overall death count is 104 at present. We cannot say anymore.”
When asked, district magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey redirected questions regarding fatalities to the CMO. None of the officials that this paper reached out to was ready to reveal any figures on Covid fatalities or reasons for the rush at the cremation ground.
“The rush happened as the electric crematorium went out of order on Friday night and bodies kept coming in large numbers even on Saturday — we estimate around 60 were brought here on Friday and about 38 more on Saturday.The number is high, considering that we normally receive only about 10 to 12 bodies a day. About 18 bodies on Friday were to be incinerated in the electric furnace, as per Covid protocols. Another 8-10 came in for the electric furnace on Saturday,” said a person familiar with the matter at the Hindon cremation ground, asking not to be named.
The ground has around 50 platforms for cremation of which nine are newly constructed by the municipal corporation, besides an electric furnace.
“Since the electric crematorium was out of order, the 8-10 bodies meant for the furnace were cremated on the additional platforms on Saturday. Since the number of deaths has increased, the waiting time has also increased,” the person said.
Ghaziabad municipal commissioner MS Tanwar said, “I have directed that the repair work on the electric crematorium be expedited. We have also appointed staff and a nodal officer to look after arrangements at the site and to ensure that all (Covid) protocols are followed.”
For families, however, the pain of losing a loved one was compounded by the long wait to perform the last rites on Saturday.
“I came to cremate my father who died of prolonged illness, and we were kept waiting for over one-and-a-half hours with the body,” said Amit Kumar, a resident of Vijay Nagar.
Ajay Kumar, who lives in Pratap Vihar, said, “It took more than two hours to perform my mother’s last rites. Most of the families had to wait for a long time but none complained, fearing that it might not go down well with the management.”
The official sources said the waiting time for cremations has increased because all bodies were being cremated as per Covid protocols at the Hindon cremation ground.
“Several bodies also come from outside the district and the place has to be sanitised after every cremation. Further, platforms remain occupied for over a day so that families can return to pick up the ashes,” said an official from Ghaziabad district administration, asking not to be named.
The official also had another reason for the long wait. “The nine new platforms are rectangular in shape and are located in a direction which is considered inauspicious for performing the last rites. Hence most families don’t prefer using them for their loved ones. The modifications will be taken up soon,” the official said.