As Delhi's COVID Deaths Rise, So Does Pressure on Cremation, Burial Grounds

At Nigambodh Ghat, cremations have gone up from 3-4 daily in early April to 30-40 now.

New Delhi: With Delhi witnessing a nearly ten-fold increase in the number of daily deaths due to COVID-19 since the beginning of this month, the cremation grounds and burial grounds in the city are feeling the pressure.

As of Thursday, 11,652 COVID-19 deaths had been recorded in Delhi. With the rise in COVID-19 cases, the death count has also shot up sharply. While some of the deaths taking place due to the novel coronavirus in Delhi are of those coming to the city for treatment from other states too, the increase in the bodies of COVID-19 victims coming to the cremation grounds and burial grounds in the city is an indicator of how bad the situation has become.

Incidentally, the total number of COVID-19 victims being cremated and buried in Delhi remains lower than the death count because relatives of most of those who had come from other states prefer to take the bodies home with them.

The largest number of cremations of COVID-19 patients who passed away was conducted at the Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground, which is run by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation.

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The in-charge of the facility, Avdhesh Sharma, said over 100 cremations were now taking place at the cremation ground daily, which included over 30 COVID cases and many suspected cases. He said there has been a multi-fold increase in the number of cremations at the cremation ground since the beginning of the month.

“Between April 1 and 5, an average of 3-4 bodies of COVID victims were being cremated here. This number rose to an average of 10-12 between April 6 and 10, and further after that. On April 12, 24 Covid cremations took place, on April 13 there were 36 and on April 14, there were 37. Today, too it is around the same level,” he said.

In view of the large number of COVID cremations taking place at the existing cremation grounds, where the staff is now under tremendous strain and the waiting time for cremations is also increasing, the civic bodies have now decided to add more cremation grounds for victims of the pandemic. Also, arrangements are being made for additional supply of wood at these crematoria.

Family members, wearing PPE kits, wait during cremation of a COVID-19 victim, at the Nigambodh Ghat in New Delhi, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

The East Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is already operating three cremation grounds and two burial facilities for COVID deaths, has now decided to use the Jawala Nagar and Geeta Nagar cremation grounds too for them. Its Mayor Nimal Jain said while plans are in place to add the two cremation grounds, at the burial grounds too fresh refilling of soil has been initiated to facilitate burial of more bodies.

While for regular burials, around 6-7 feet of earth is required to be removed, in the case of COVID cases this goes up to 10-12 feet.

Meanwhile, the burial grounds are also witnessing a surge in the arrival of bodies of COVID victims.  At the Jadeed Ahlay Kabristan Islam near ITO, the caretaker said the number of bodies that were required to be buried with COVID protocol had started increasing from April 4. “By April 12, the situation had started turning alarming with 25 bodies being brought in a single day,” said Mohammad Shamim.

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Though the burial ground is quite big, it initially had only about enough space to bury around 150 COVID victims. Shamim, whose father and grandfather had also looked after the premises before him, said before this he had never seen so many bodies being brought in on a single day.

He said there was a sudden increase in the first week of April. “In 55 days till April 4, I had buried only 5 bodies of COVID positive cases, but since then I have buried 70.”

Though Shamim said that the site was running out of designated space for burial of COVID protocol bodies, chairman of Wakf Board Amanatullah Khan was quoted as saying that there was no dearth of space and more area would be earmarked for such burials, if the need arose.