"Serious Problem...": Supreme Court On Bodies Found Floating In Ganga

The Supreme Court was hearing a petition by a NGO seeking directions for the framing of policies to protect the rights of the dead

Bodies of suspected Covid patients were found floating on the Ganga last month

New Delhi:

The grisly sight of dead bodies floating on the Ganga - a horrific all-too-common sight last month during the peak of the second Covid wave - is a "serious problem", the Supreme Court said on Monday, while hearing a petition on the framing of policies to protect the rights of the dead.

However, the two-member bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta directed the petitioner to approach the NHRC, which has already issued some directions in this regard.

"Go before the National Human Rights Commission. How many forums can you approach? It is a serious problem... we know. Luckily the situation is not that now. You referred to NHRC recommendations... go to NHRC," it said.

Issued last month, these recommendations included enacting "specific legislation to protect the rights of the dead" and setting up of temporary crematoriums.

The petitioner had moved the top court for help in framing policies to protect the rights of the dead, including action against overcharging for cremating those who died of COVID-19.

In the argument the petitioner - a NGO called Distress Management Collective - referred to the dozens of bodies of people who died of Covid that were dumped in the Ganga in May.

In early May - the peak of the second wave, when (officially) 3,000-4,000 Covid-related deaths were reported every day - hundreds of bodies of suspected coronavirus patients began washing up along the banks of the Ganga in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

It was assumed the bodies were of Covid victims from rural areas, where, in the absence of protocols, locals afraid of the virus spreading any further dumped the bodies into the river.

The initial wave of dead bodies was followed by dozens every day, triggering a public health scare and, more predictably, a political blame game between the UP and Bihar governments.

Scared and angry locals blamed both states; "Bodies are thrown over by ambulance drivers from both UP and Bihar," Arvind Singh, a resident, said.

There were also reports - denied by the government - that people were dumping the bodies because of the exorbitant price of firewood for cremations.

Worse, apart from bodies being dumped in the Ganga, soon they also began to be uncovered from shallow, hastily-dug graves along the river banks; graves that also led to visuals of grave-robbing.

The central government stepped in mid-May, asking both Bihar and UP to prevent further dumping of bodies, and focus on a dignified cremation and safe disposal of remains.

Meanwhile, in another hearing in the Supreme Court today, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan declined to hear a PIL (public interest litigation) seeking a probe against authorities responsible for the bodies found floating on the Ganga.