More corpses surface as swollen Ganga rapidly erodes riverbank in Prayagraj
The early arrival of monsoon this year has brought about new concerns for the district administration and the Prayagraj Municipal Corporation (PMC) as the rising level of the Ganga is rapidly eroding large chunks of the riverbank and exposing a large number of bodies, presumably of Covid-19 victims, buried in the sand near Phaphamau Ghat.
The civic agency has taken up the responsibility of cremating all such bodies. Till date, the zonal officer of the ghat, Neeraj Singh, has cremated over two dozen bodies (11 of these in the last one week).
Despite the fact that bodies often lie buried on the riverbanks near many ghats like Jhansi and Daraganj also, the erosion of the riverbank due to rising waters has so far been seen mostly at Phaphamau, PMC officials said.
At present, around 60 to 70 bodies are on the verge of being exposed near the Phaphamau Ghat due to erosion of the riverbank.
The zonal officer in-charge cremated seven bodies on Tuesday and three more on Wednesday morning, confirmed PMC officials.
Every day, Singh and his team inspect the sandy banks of the Ganga. If a body is on the verge of getting exposed, the team digs out the corpse and cremates it.
Singh not only participates in the entire proceedings of the cremation, but also makes it a point to ensure that all rituals are followed.
“I don’t know any of the deceased. But it is my responsibility to follow the rituals of last rites. I light the pyre amidst the chanting of Vedic mantras, considering ‘them’ as my own family members,” Singh said.
The cremation of bodies buried on the riverbank began on June 4, when Singh cremated six bodies. Since then, it has been a regular feature. Till Wednesday, he has lit pyres of 24 such bodies.
The PMC is incurring a cost of around ₹3,000 on the cremation of each body. Officials said the practice would continue in the coming days as more bodies are likely to be exposed, given the continuous erosion of the riverbank.
“We have been keeping a close watch on the ghats because of which no one is burying the dead. When we find that a body could be swept into the river due to erosion of the riverbank, we dig it out and cremate it,” said PK Mishra, public relations officer, PMC.
Senior lawyer and Amicus Curie in ‘Re-Ganga Pollution’ case at the Allahabad High Court, Arun Kumar Gupta warned, “Officials need to keep strict vigil not just on the Phaphamau ghat but other ghats as well where bodies have been traditionally buried on the sandy banks and can be swept off by the current causing further pollution of this sacred river. With the monsoon season on, the coming days would require a 24x7 vigil on the riverbanks. Any slip-up can prove to be a big blow for the river.” He has been pushing for ‘International Heritage’ status for the holy river.