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Corpses float in India's holy river amid Covid-19 crisis

Some 95 unidentified bodies, many of them suspected to be Covid victims, were recovered from the Ganges in northern India

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: May 12, 2021 10:11 AM GMT

Updated: May 12, 2021 10:25 AM GMT

Corpses float in India's holy river amid Covid-19 crisis

Relatives mourn as they arrive for the cremation of their loved one who died due to Covid-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi on May 11. (Photo: AFP)

Pandemic-hit India is witnessing an unprecedented crisis as some 95 unidentified bodies — many of them suspected to be Covid-19 victims — were recovered from the River Ganges in northern India.

Officials said 25 bodies were found in Uttar Pradesh, where Hindu monk-turned politician Yogi Adityanath serves as chief minister, heading the government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

At least 70 bodies were found in poverty-stricken Bihar, where the BJP shares power with regional socialist party Janata Dal United.

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Some media reports suggested the bodies of Covid victims were being dumped in the river after an overwhelmed government system neglected or delayed their dignified disposal.

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state of some 200 million, issued instructions prohibiting Jal Samadhi or water cremation, a ritual followed by some communities in which bodies are dumped in bodies of water such as the Ganges, considered holy by Hindus.

"We have taken serious note of the issue of dumping dead bodies in the River Ganga and instituted measures” to stop it, tweeted federal water affairs minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

Most bodies have been found in Bihar, and thus the Bihar government should investigate

Uttar Pradesh officials have been cautious not to confirm if the bodies were of Covid-19 victims.

“Most bodies have been found in Bihar, and thus the Bihar government should investigate,” said senior Uttar Pradesh police officer P. Kumar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi is on the banks of the Ganges, which flows through 11 states. It starts in the Himalayas and runs through the plains before entering Bangladesh to empty itself in the Bay of Bengal.

India has been struggling with a second wave of Covid-19 since April as hundreds of thousands of new cases are reported each day, with thousands dying. Each day of the past week India saw more than 400,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths from the contagion.

The toll decreased slightly this week, with 3,800 deaths and 329,000 new cases reported on May 10. India has so far recorded a total of 23 million cases and about 250,000 deaths.

Opposition leaders such as Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and experts allege that the actual death toll could be far higher than what is being shown in the official data.

Hospitals across India continue to report a lack of essential medicines and oxygen to treat pandemic-affected people.

At least 197 people have died due to lack of medical oxygen in hospitals, reported popular online publication The Wire.

While there is an "uncountable number of bodies" flowing in rivers, the prime minister is busy elsewhere, Gandhi said in a tweet.

India, reeling under the Indian variant of the coronavirus, is now the epicenter of the viral spread in the region that is also affecting nearby countries like Nepal and Indonesia.

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