Prayagraj: As Ganga's Water Level Rises, More Dead Bodies Begin to Emerge

According to one municipal official, at least 40 cremations were done in a 24-hour period.

New Delhi: As the Ganga’s water level rises with the onset of monsoon, bodies that were buried on the river’s sandbanks are now floating in the waters in Prayagraj, in yet another graphic representation of the devastating toll of COVID-19 in the past three months.

According to NDTV, cellphone videos and images shot by local journalists at different ghats in Prayagraj on June 23 and 24 showed the authorities fishing out the bodies, with one official admitting that at least 40 cremations were done in a 24-hour period.

Signs point to the fact that at least some of the bodies are of COVID-19 patients. While one body that was pulled out of the river had white surgical gloves on, another had an oxygen tube still in the mouth.

Niraj Kumar Singh, a zonal officer for the Prayagraj Municipal Corporation, said that the person with the oxygen tube may have been ill and was abandoned by their family. According to NDTV, not all the bodies were decomposed and the condition of some indicates they were “freshly buried”.

Prayagraj’s mayor Abhilasha Gupta Nandi said wherever the administration is find “exposed bodies because of the spate in the river”, cremations are being done.

In May, there were numerous reports of large numbers of shallow graves on the Ganga’s banks in multiple locations across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. While these deaths occurred during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19, the state government denied that the bodies were of the virus’s patients. It claimed that some communities in the state had a ‘long tradition’ of burying people on the banks.

As part of a ‘clean up’ drive, orange shrouds placed on bodies were removed in Prayagraj, leading some to speculate that the government did not want the graves to be identified.

There were also several instances of bodies floating down the Ganga, raising concerns that the official COVID-19 death toll in Uttar Pradesh was massively undercounting the actual toll. A recent report in Article 14 found that the death count in 24 UP districts was 43 times more than the official COVID-19 toll, even before the second wave. While all these ‘excess deaths’ cannot be attributed to the virus, experts say that during a pandemic, a large number of them would have been caused by COVID-19.