After accounting for the largest number of deaths on railway tracks and highways in the country, Maharashtra has also earned the notoriety of having the highest number of unidentified human bodies in the country last year.
According to statistics compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), 5,906 unidentified bodies were left unclaimed in the state’s morgues in 2012. With 5,319 unidentified bodies recovered during the same period, Tamil Nadu was a close second, while the most populous state in the country, Uttar Pradesh, had 3,996 unclaimed bodies. These were followed by West Bengal (3,681), Delhi (3,359) and Karnataka (2,658).
Most often, the police perform the last rites for these bodies after hospitals have kept them for a certain amount of time. “We keep an unidentified body for 30-90 days, after which the police dispose of them. The three morgues at JJ hospital can store only 750 bodies,” said Dr TP Lahane, the dean of the hospital.
Experts said the large figure in Maharashtra could be a result of the increasing homelessness, as these people lack shelter and access to medical facilities.
“Many of these unclaimed bodies are of people who come to cities like Mumbai to earn a livelihood or for medical care. They land up on the streets,” said Kishore Bhatt, 62, a city-based businessman who has been performing the last rites for unclaimed bodies for the past five decades under the aegis of the Sadgati Foundation, a not-for-profit.
Abhishek Bharadwaj, founder-president of city NGO Alternative Realities, said there are a large number of elderly homeless people who die — especially during monsoon — of pneumonia and typhoid, which are the major causes of death among street dwellers. “As the homeless look unkempt, they are often shoed away from hospitals,” he added.
A survey conducted by Alternative Realities revealed that most of the homeless in Mumbai are intra-state migrants, followed by migrants from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
“The figures are testimony to the growth of anonymity and destitution,” Bharadwaj added.
Interestingly, NCRB statistics revealed that in places such as Mizoram, Tripura and Andaman and Nicobar, there were no cases of unidentified bodies found.