Covid: As bodies pile up in Delhi, govt allows use of wood for cremation
Beginning Thursday, four crematoriums run by the civic bodies in Delhi have started using wood to dispose of bodies of Covid-19 confirmed and suspected patients, officials confirmed. The move was necessitated because only two of the six CNG-run furnaces were running and bodies of Covid patients were piling up with crematoriums returning them because they were unable to take the load.
Using wood for the cremation of bodies of Covid-19 patients was not allowed earlier for the fear of possible spread of the infection. HT had reported on Thursday how with only two CNG furnaces working, bodies were piling at the designated Covid-19 mortuary of the Lok Nayak hospital. Inside the mortuary, there are 108 bodies. All 80 storage racks are full and there are 28 bodies on the floor, piled on top of each other.
Officials on Thursday said a third furnace was fixed on Wednesday night. Staff at the Nigambodh Ghat -- a crematorium on the banks of Yamuna -- said it will take them at least two months to repair the other three furnaces.
As on Thursday, Delhi had recorded 16,281 Covid-19 cases and 316 deaths; 7,495 persons have been discharged/recovered.
On Wednesday, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation -- the nodal agency for managing cremations of Covid-19 patients -- directed four crematoriums in Kardardooma, Nigambodh Ghat, Rani Jhansi Road and Punjabi Bagh to use wood for funeral rites.
The order marked to the South and the East municipal bodies signed by the North civic body’s health officer, a copy of which HT has seen, said that preference must be given to use of the CNG furnace.
At the Rani Jhansi crematorium, which has started taking bodies of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases after the order, the authorities have been strict about the gathering. Until Thursday evening, 15 bodies were cremated using wood.
Sultan Singh, the in-charge of the crematorium, said, “We have just started dealing with Covid-19 cases. We allow only one member of the family near the body to light the pyre. Even that one relative has to wear mask and take other precautions. The priests handling such bodies also wear masks and gloves. Nobody opens the body that is wrapped in a personal protective equipment suit. It is directly kept on top of a pile of wood and covered for the final rites. There is no contact with the body. It is a new thing for us. We are following the government’s orders.”
Until Wednesday evening, the bodies of Covid-19 patients and suspected Covid-19 patients were being taken to the electric crematoriums at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh. Besides these, the bodies are being sent to four burial grounds in ITO, Mangolpuri, Madanpur Khadar and Shastri Park.
Suman Gupta, of the Nigambodh Ghat Sanchalan Samiti, said by Thursday evening, they had cremated 15 bodies using wood and five in the CNG furnace. “We are worried but what can we do if the government refuses to listen. There are rows of bodies cremated through the wood in the open. We are worried about the smoke. It could be dangerous. The lives of our 70 workers and 100 priests are at risk. The cremation in the CNG furnace was controlled and happened in an isolated section. Outsiders were not allowed inside. Now the Covid-19 bodies are being cremated in the open, sometimes side by side too. We are only doing it because of the government’s orders.”
Experts said cremating bodies of Covid-19 patients using wood is completely safe.
Dr Sudhir Gupta, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology, AIIMS, said, “It is perfectly safe to dispose of the body through the wood-based method. The temperature maintained is the same as that of the CNG furnace. One must follow the guidelines that the government has issued such as not coming in contact with the body, wearing masks and gloves. The precautions that one adopts at the CNG furnace must be adopted in the wood-based system too.”
The mayor of the North Delhi civic body, Avtar Singh, too said the process is safe and approved by the central government. “Cremating bodies using wood is not harmful. It is being done to clear the backlog and expedite cremations. We adopted the process so that the families of those who died do not have to wait for days for the final rites,” Singh said.