Delhi govt details steps taken to reduce delay in disposing Covid infected bodies
The Delhi government on Friday told the High Court that they had taken urgent steps to ensure there was no delay in the disposal of the bodies of persons who died of Covid-19 or were suspected to have died of the disease.
The High Court had, on Thursday, taken suo moto cognisance of bodies piling up in Covid-19 mortuaries and filed a public interest litigation ( PIL).
In the PIL, the court had quoted a Hindustan Times report dated May 28 that detailed how all 80 storage racks at the Covid-19 mortuary of the Lok Nayak Hospital were full and 28 bodies were stacked on the floor.
The court also quoted the report stating that eight bodies were returned from Nigambodh Ghat on Tuesday because the facility was not in a position to accept more bodies, as only two of the three CNG furnaces were working and the bodies of those who had died five days before that were yet to be cremated.
During the hearing on Friday, the Delhi government’s additional standing counsel Sanjay Ghose told the bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal that urgent steps, such as extending working hours at the crematorium from 9am to 4pm to 7am to 10pm (from May 17), had been taken.
“We have further informed the court that 29 bodies were disposed of on May 28, and on May 30 the remaining 35 bodies will be disposed of. Only bodies on which autopsies or investigations are to be carried out will be retained. We assured the Court that all steps are being taken to avoid such circumstances in the future,” Ghose said.
The government’s additional standing counsel said that many other steps have been taken to resolve the situation. One such step he mentioned was allowing Lok Nayak Hospital to send bodies to others crematoriums and not just Nigambodh Ghat. “Lok Nayak Hospital was earlier authorised to send bodies only to Nigambodh Ghat. However, now it can also send bodies to crematoriums at Panchkuian and Punjabi Bagh,” he added.
He also submitted that the government has authorised traditional wood-fired cremations, in addition to electric and CNG furnaces. PPE kits for all workers as well as bodies have been arranged, he said.
Explaining why the problem arose, the government’s additional standing counsel said that an “unavoidable situation” had arisen due to several factors such as an increase in the number of Covid-19 deaths in those three-four days. He also said that these factors included the reduced capacity of Nigambodh Ghat to handle bodies on account of snags in furnaces and the workers at the crematorium refusing to handle bodies of those who died of Covid-19. He also said that relatives had refused to come forward to claim the bodies.
Appearing for the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, standing counsel Akhil Mittal said that the civic body has extended the area around Nigambodh Ghat to accommodate the bodies since permission has been granted for wood cremation. He submitted that now 35 bodies can be accommodated for burning at one time (including CNG as well as wood furnaces). He submitted that a work order had already been issued in April for the replacement of three CNG furnaces at the crematorium.
The crematorium is under the jurisdiction of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, while the Lok Nayak Hospital is run by Delhi government. The hospital is also the largest dedicated Covid-19 hospital and is currently not admitting any non-Covid cases. On Friday, the hospital had 607 Covid-19 patients of the total 2,305 admitted in different hospitals across the city. The number of confirmed deaths in Delhi due to Covid-19 on Friday evening was 398.
The counsels for the other municipal corporations assured the court that they would take adequate steps to avoid such conditions in the future. The bench, following this, directed that this situation should not be repeated and no body should be returned. It sought a status report from the authorities and posted the matter for June 2.