The Delhi Police has asked the municipal body in the national capital to find more sites to be used as crematoriums amid a rising body count due to the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Deaths in the city are mostly related to Covid and due to shortage of space, people are being forced to cremate their loved ones in crematoriums not designated to take victims of Covid. That's why we suggested more crematoriums should be set up," said a senior Delhi Police officer.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) is building temporary pyre platforms in Dwarka. This site was earlier used as the city's first municipal crematorium for pets. "Here, some 51 bodies can be cremated and we are making arrangements for that," said a senior SDMC officer, adding the tender for this site came out today and the cremation ground will be made available as soon as possible.
There are 13 cremation grounds in Dwarka, according to government data, of which three are designated for Covid victims.
At a crematorium in central Delhi's Lodhi Road, some nine ambulances are arriving with bodies every hour. But the crematorium can take only three bodies at a time, so it asks the ambulances to wait in a queue till their turn comes.
"We are getting a lot of bodies, but we don't have that many staff. Two of our own died due to Covid. The workers are also scared, but we are trying to manage," Manish, the caretaker of Lodhi Road crematorium, told NDTV.
Government data shows the Lodhi Road crematorium is one of 18 sites in Delhi where victims of Covid can be cremated. In all, there are 101 crematoriums, 57 kabristans and five cemeteries in Delhi. The workers at most of these sites say their workload has tripled due to rise in Covid fatalities.
Some 75 pyres are burnt daily at the Lodhi Road crematorium. "Earlier, we used to cremate 15-20 bodies; now numbers have multiplied, that's why we issue tokens (for waiting)," said Manish.
He said many people should not accompany their loved ones to crematoriums amid Covid. "Otherwise the crematorium gets crowded. And we can't maintain social distancing, which is the need of the hour," Manish said.
Some people who came to the crematorium alleged there are groups who are trying to make a quick buck even in these tragic times.
"Ambulances are charging exorbitant amount from Moolchand to here, which is just a few kilometres. I was charged Rs 9,000. The government needs to look into this," said a man who came to the crematorium with a body.
"We are poor people. First we paid the hospital, and now drivers. From where do we get money?" another man said outside the gate of the crematorium.
Ambulance drivers denied they are overcharging. "We have been risking our lives for last one and half years. Why would we do this? We are also humans," said an ambulance driver who brought a body from a hospital in south Delhi.
The municipal corporations are also struggling for space. In North Delhi, the capacity has been enhanced. "Till April 15, we could cremate 230 people a day. Now total capacity has been increased to 570. Three new cremation grounds have been developed besides increasing the capacity of existing ones," a North Delhi Municipal Corporation officer said.
He said out of total 570 slots, 304 wooden and 54 CNG pyres are fixed for Covid deaths. "This capacity will be raised further," he said.