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Crematoriums in Delhi sending back bodies of Coronavirus victims to hospitals due to high number of bodies and broken down furnaces

Following the order to use wooden pyres to depose bodies, the staff and priests at the four crematoria in the city have threatened to boycott fearing for their safety.

The mortuary in the Lok Nayak Hospital, the largest dedicated coronavirus hospital in the national capital, is now full with dead bodies of coronavirus victims and suspected cases as bodies are returning back to the facility from the crematorium due to their inability to depose more dead bodies.

According to the reports, the Nigambodh Ghat CNG crematorium in Delhi sent eight bodies back to the Lok Nayak hospital on Tuesday as it was in no position to depose more bodies. The crematorium has only two of its six furnaces working.

Following the returning of bodies, the mortuary of the Lok Nayak Hospital is now over the capacity with 108 bodies. Reportedly, the mortuary can store 80 bodies and remaining 28 bodies are on the floor, piled on top of each other, officials at the mortuary said.

The dead bodies of coronavirus patients and suspected patients are being disposed at the electric crematoriums at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh. At Punjabi Bagh, there are two furnaces. Addition to these, four burial grounds for Muslim and Christians have also been approved in the Income Tax Office area, Mangolpuri, Madanpur Khadar and Shastri Park.

The dead bodies of those who died of the coronavirus disease or are suspected to have died of it are being stored at the Lok Nayak Hospital’s mortuary. The bodies are wrapped in personal protection (PPE) kits and are handled only by the staff wearing PPE suits. Nearly 602 of the total 2,242 coronavirus patients who are in hospital care across 16 hospitals in Delhi are admitted in the facility. Currently, the hospital is not admitting any non-coronavirus cases.

With the rising deaths related to coronavirus in Delhi, the hospital staff are worried now, who said, “We are yet to cremate the bodies of those who died five days ago”.

“The backlog of such cases is increasing every day. Wearing PPE suits, we stand in the sun in this heat outside the crematorium only to be told in the evening that they cannot accept the bodies. Today there are 28 bodies on the floor lying next to each other or piled on top of each other. Last week, there were 34,” said another official according to HT.

Four furnaces at Nigambodh Ghat develop snag

Out of the six furnaces at the Nigambodh Ghat electric crematorium, only three were working until Monday. Later in the day, another furnace broke down. An official said that as they could not take anymore load, they returned the bodies back to the hospital.

On Tuesday, even after working extra hours, the crematorium only accepted 15 bodies, said an official. The workers at the Ghat have been rebuilding the three damaged furnaces and another group of workers are reportedly working on the fourth. They said it would take at least two months to rebuild the three damaged chambers. The crematorium has received the bodies of at least 244 coronavirus related dead bodies till date.

“We have fixed the third furnace and it is working now,” said Suman Gupta of the Nigambodh Ghat Sanchalan Samiti, the trust that manages the crematorium.

He added that nobody was prepared for the surge of bodies related to coronavirus. He said that until the coronavirus pandemic, the crematorium got only 4-5 cases a day. “The three defunct machines malfunctioned three to four months ago and it wasn’t a problem then. Ours is not a commercial business. Last week, we finally managed to convince the government to give us the money to fix the three furnaces. Work is on,” Gupta said.

An official at the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium said that even an extension of the daily shift has not helped. The workers need at least two hours to depose a body and collecting the ashes takes time, the official said.

According to Dr Suresh Kumar, the director of Lok Nayak Hospital, the backlog in the disposal of bodies has been caused by non-functioning furnaces at the crematorium.

Crematorium using wooden pyres, staff opposes

Meanwhile, North Delhi Municipal Corporations deputy commissioner and spokesperson Ira Singhal has said the civic agency has now received orders to cremate bodies using wood pyre. However, the authorities prefer to use the CNG and electric crematoriums instead of the wood pyres.

Following the order to use wooden pyres to depose bodies, the staff and priests at the four crematoria in the city have threatened to boycott fearing for their safety.

So far, only CNG furnaces at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh were being used for the cremation of deceased coronavirus patients, however, with new order allowing the cremation using wooden pyre, the staff at these ghats are not happy and had refused to take part in the process on the first day.

The manager at the Punjabi Bagh crematorium said four of their staff threatened to quit on Tuesday. He added, “Wood-based cremations should be allowed only in open areas in outer Delhi. Why did the government allow such funerals only at four facilities?”

On Tuesday, the staff and priests at Nigambodh Ghat refused to work. The workers said they will stop entering the ground if all corona and non-corona bodies are processed at the same place.

At Karkardooma, no PPE kits are being provided to the staff and they feared to carry out cremation in the open.

“Unlike CNG units, if cremation is carried out on a wooden pyre, the body is exposed to the air. employees don’t have provisions of compensation and insurance in case we get infected,” said another worker.

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