Bengaluru: Crematoriums run overtime while kin wait
Bengaluru: Despite a relative’s relentless attempts, 24-year-old Sunitha refused to move away from the ambulance, where she has been for more than an hour looking at her mother Valliyamma’s body. While she refused to move using hand gestures, she took a moment to ask a question to her relative: “What number it now?” “Ten,” replied the relative, adding it could take another five hours before their turn and that she should take rest.
On Wednesday, Sunitha was among the many relatives waiting outside the government crematorium in Summanahalli in Bengaluru, one of the seven locations allocated to cremate Covid-19 causalities. “We have been waiting here since morning and they are telling us they will be able to cremate her only after five hours. Her body kept in an ambulance for all this while, there is not even ice box,” said Sunitha.
More than 19 ambulances were waiting outside this crematorium on Wednesday with dead bodies in them. As no one is allowed near the furnaces, family members were seen performing last rites around the ambulances.
Inside the crematorium, the staff had their own troubles. Earlier on Wednesday, the door of one of two furnaces malfunctioned, which took a couple of hours to fix. “Our maximum capacity is to cremate 16 bodies a day that, too, if we push ourselves and machine. For the past few days, we have been cremating more at least 25 bodies a day. Today (Wednesday), we have already got 23 bodies (at 2.30 pm), we are told more bodies are coming,” said Vinod R, a supervisor of the crematorium.
The crematorium has four staffers to operate the furnaces. “Their shift starts at 7 am and because of the number of bodies, they have to work till 2 am. We are not turning any bodies back, because we know what the families are going through, but we are finding it physically difficult to keep up with the workload,” he added.
In the first wave of Covid-19, the highest number of deaths reported was 75 on July 17, 2020, but in the second wave, the number of deaths reported has been much higher. On Monday, 97 deaths were reported in Bengaluru. The pressure of this increase is being felt at crematoriums across the city. The numbers didn’t show any considerable reduction, with the city reporting 92 and 70 deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Around 7km away from Summanhalli, at Peenya crematorium, the situation was no different. The centre received 23 dead bodies by Wednesday afternoon and the six furnace operators were preparing for another long night.
Renuskesh, the supervisor of the centre, has bloodshot eyes from sleeping for just three hours the previous night. “We were told to close the gates once we get around 15 bodies, which is our capacity, but when people plead in front of us, we can’t be inhumane. The workers have been sleeping in the crematorium itself. They haven’t met their families for days,” he said.
The furnace operators are contract labourers, who until recently were not even paid their salaries. “We get only ₹13,000 and after cuts, it comes down to ₹10,000. But for close to a year, we were not paid our salaries. It was only recently because the authorities needed us that our salaries were paid. Despite this, we didn’t strike or stop working, that is because we see the pain of these families,” said Ramanajaiah, one of the contract workers at Peenya.
While the employees are ready to work the long hours, there are many aspects that are beyond them. “Firstly, the local residents have been objecting to the furnaces running late into the night. But the biggest problem is the furnace itself. We can’t keep it running like this. It needs to cool down for at least 7-8 hours. Otherwise, it will break down soon. Also, as the number of bodies is increasing and cleaning the remains from under the furnace needs time too. We are not getting any time for this,” added Renuskesh.
He added that just seven cremation centres for Covid-19 casualties in the entire city was not enough. As the number of deaths is increasing, pushing the furnaces beyond their capacity will lead to a collapse and more chaos, Renuskesh said.
At the Banashankari crematorium, two men in threw their personal protective equipment (PPE) kits on the road after a heated argument with the crematorium staff. The staff did not allow the ambulance, which arrived at the centre, to enter as furnaces had reached the capacity. “We already have 24 bodies, and we won’t be able to finish it by even 3 am. But people are not understanding, they are making influential people call us, but when there is no space, what do we do?” asked a crematorium staff on the condition of anonymity.
Acknowledging the shortage of cremation slots, Karnataka deputy chief minister Dr CN Ashwatha Narayana on Wednesday said that instead of just seven crematoria, all available cremation centres will be used for Covid-19 cases.
“From today onwards, the final rites of those who succumb to Covid-19 will be performed in all the 13 crematoriums of the city. I have discussed the problem related to the cremation with Gaurav Gupta, Chief Commissioner of BBMP and steps have been taken to make arrangements for the dignified burial of those who lose lives due to the pandemic,” Narayana told HT on Wednesday.
Chandigarh Chandigarh administrator Banwarilal Purohit on Wednesday gave in-principle approval for a synthetic running track at Sukhna Lake. UT adviser Dharam Pal, said, “The Chandigarh Heritage Conservation Committee had earlier given its go-ahead for the proposal. Next, the detailed plan and cost estimates will be prepared; and then, tenders will be floated for the project.” A UT official said the proposed track is part of the administration's efforts to give Sukhna Lake a major facelift.
The National Highway Authority of India has approved two over-bridges, which are likely to reduce travel time between Kalka and Zirakpur and alleviate traffic jams on the stretch by next year. NHAI has already floated tenders for the 60-m wide over-bridges, which will be constructed at a cost of ₹50 crore. It has invited bids for the “construction and site improvement of the four-lane national highway (NH-22) on the Zirakpur-Parwanoo junction.”
Fifteen students had a narrow escape after their school bus skidded into a waterlogged open drain in Daulat Singhwala village in Phabat area of Zirakpur. The bus, which was ferrying students of Blue Bird High School, Sector 16, Panchkula, was making way for another school bus when it skidded into the overflowing drain. The bus tilted in the drain, but passersby and parents were able to rescue the children through the driver's window.
Tricity residents woke up to heavy rainfall for the second time this month on Wednesday. Three people went missing after a taxi, shuttling two commuters, was swept away in a flashflood in the Patiala-Ki-Rao rivulet as the driver attempted to cross the causeway in Tanda Village near Nayagaon. The owner of the vehicle, Rakesh Kumar told the police that Gaurav had called him saying two people, travelling to Baddi, had booked his cab.
Chandigarh received 97mm rainfall between 6am and 8.30am, the heaviest rain in July since 2017, as per the India Meteorological Department. It received another 0.9mm of rainfall during the day. The maximum precipitation till 8.30am was recorded at the Sector 39 observatory (97mm), 49.2mm rain was recorded at the airport observatory, 77.5mm rain in Panchkula and 74.5 mm rain in Mohali.