Around 40 km from the Capital, the Munak canal near the rural suburb of Bawana is the must-go place in summertime. Men bathe in the canal, women fetch water and wash clothes, and kids can be seen swimming all day long in its cool waters.
The Munak canal is vital to Delhi. The water it brings is treated at Haiderpur, and takes care of the supply to south-west Delhi, including Dwarka, as well as parts of south Delhi.
Dread hangs like an invisible mist over the water, however. What the villagers fear are dead bodies floating down this 102-km lifeline of Delhi. Almost every week, the villagers spot a body floating in the canal. If it’s a drowned swimmer now, there will be the clothes-washer who slipped then. Every once in a while, it’s a murder victim. A majority of them remain unidentified, despite the police uploading photos of the dead on their website.
Five police stations around Bawana have been ordered to keep a tab on this grisly happening. Villagers say it’s routine to spot a bloated body floating in the canal. The frequency of this “routine” happening will only increase in the days to come, they say.
It is when the canal enters Delhi that things start getting really ugly. Since 2013, the police have fished out 121 bodies from the canal. Last year, 49 bodies were found while in 2013 the police recovered 47.
Not all the bodies are from Delhi, the Delhi Police believe, because the source of this canal is near Sonepat in Haryana. This canal flows only around 20 km in the city — through the police station areas of Bawana, Shahbad Dairy, KN Katju Marg, SP Badli and Narela in Outer Delhi. The bodies, police say, remain so long in the water that they get bloated, decomposed and sometimes reduced to just skeletons, making identification near impossible.
And that’s where their khaki cousins from Haryana come in. The Delhi Police blame the Haryana Police for letting the bodies enter the NCR without any restriction. Delhi’s finest had once installed an iron net at the canal’s Haryana-Delhi border which allowed only water to enter the Capital. “As part of an initiative, we had officially established a make-way grill to make sure the water flow would not be hampered and to restrict the flowing in of bodies from Haryana. The aim was to stop the bodies and identify them at an early state without letting them float for long,” said one police official.
It didn’t last. The Haryana Police removed the net, and things went back to the uncaring usual.
According to police records, out of the 96 bodies fished out in 2013 and 2014, only five resulted in cases of murder being registered. The police say that they could find injury marks indicating murder in only three cases, while two bodies were found in a gunny bag. DCP (Outer Delhi) Vikramjit Singh said, “The human body begins to bloat in water and decomposes within hours of death. By the time they are fished out, the injury marks and other preliminary indicators of murder or accident are all gone, making it difficult to ascertain the cause of death.”
The Haryana Police say the Delhi Police are to blame for adopting a stop-gap arrangement to solve the problem. A senior Haryana Police officer said on condition of anonymity, “Corpses floating in rivers or canals is a long-pending issue between states. It is a serious issue but installing grills in heavy volume of running water is simply not realistic. Several heavy materials like tree branches, construction and waste also float and obstructing the voluminous water flow may jeopardize canal structures.”
Sonepat superintendent of police Ashok Kumar said they are ready to extend their support to the Delhi Police on this issue. “I am aware of what happened in the past two years but the problem should be solved by all states together. Restrictions, if at all they have to be put up, should be put up at every district and state from where water passes,” he said.