The AAP government informed the Delhi High Court on Monday that it has stopped testing the dead for COVID-19 and because of this the relatives are not claiming the bodies of those suspected to have died of the virus, leading to delays in their disposal.
"Suspected COVID-19 patients died without a test and the relatives are not claiming the bodies due to absence of test reports and test on dead bodies has been stopped," the Delhi government said in an affidavit filed in the high court.
Another reason given for delay in disposal of the bodies was social stigma attached with the disease and fear of quarantine.
In the affidavit, filed through advocate Sanjoy Ghose, the government said: "The subject occurrence was a one-time event occurring on account of unavoidable circumstances and all steps are being taken to avoid it in the future."
One of the steps taken is that an order has been issued by the Health department fixing the responsibility, for timely disposal of the COVID-19 positive/suspect dead bodies, on the Medical Director/Director of the hospital where the patient died or was brought dead, the affidavit said.
"Respective municipal corporation shall make all the arrangements to cremate/bury such dead bodies," the health department's order of May 30 has said.
The affidavit further said that another reason for delay in disposal of bodies was that relatives were misinformed that the hospital will dispose of the bodies, whereas the hospital is only a facilitator and the bodies have to be claimed by the victim's famililies.
Some bodies have not been claimed for the reason that the relatives are from outside Delhi and no formal consent for disposal has been received, it said.
The affidavit was filed in response to a PIL initiated by the high court on its own over news reports that there was a lack of facilities to cremate those who died due to COVID-19 and the bodies were piling up in the mortuaries.
An anguished high court had said if this was the correct situation then it was "highly dissatisfactory and violative of the rights of the dead".
The court had said it was pained at the state of affairs as reported in newspapers on Thursday, May 28.
The news reports had said that the backlog in disposal of bodies was due to non-functioning of CNG furnaces at Nigambodh and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums.
On Friday, May 29, the Delhi government had informed the court that urgent steps were taken to remedy the situation, including that LNJP Hospital being authorised to divert bodies to crematoriums at Panchkuian and Punjab Bagh, as opposed to only Nigambodh Ghat.
The Delhi government also told the court that it has now authorised wood-fired traditional cremations, in addition to electric and CNG furnaces, providing personal protection (PPE) kits for all workers at crematorium and bodies and the working hours of crematoriums are extended to 7AM-10 PM from existing 9 AM - 4 PM.
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