Union water resources minister Uma Bharti sought on Wednesday a report from the district magistrate of Unnao in Uttar Pradesh where more than 100 bodies were found floating in a stream of the Ganga, triggering renewed concerns about the river’s health.
Television footage showed dogs and birds feeding on the bloated and decaying bodies floating in a shallow tributary near a cremation area.
An official estimated that 80 bodies have so far been retrieved but warn the figure may rise. “There could be more than 100 bodies but we are yet to get an exact number,” said district magistrate Saumya Agarwal.
“It seems these bodies have surfaced after the water level receded in the river. We are trying to figure out the reason. We have sent a team of doctors to collect the samples from the bodies to investigate the case.”
Inspector general of police Satish Ganesh said the bodies were probably given river burials upstream at a cremation area known as Pariyar Ghat before becoming stranded in shallow water.
“Most of the bodies were badly decomposed and mutilated … it was difficult to ascertain their gender. But most of them were children,” he said.
Doctors have ruled out autopsy on the highly decomposed bodies but samples were taken for DNA testing.
Poor families who cannot afford enough wood and other materials for the burning ceremony sometimes place the bodies in the water, while others are not cremated entirely.
The bodies of some holy men are also placed in the river instead of being cremated, in accordance with tradition.
The discovery of so many corpses in one place has sparked environmental and health concerns, especially because Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to clean up the river.
Minister Bharti said the mystery behind the surfacing of so many bodies has to be unraveled since it could have a direct impact on the government clean-up mission.
An official said sanitation workers have refused to take out the bodies because they are in very bad shape.