Bodies of suspected Covid-19 coronavirus victims are seen partially buried in the sand near a cremation ground on the banks of Ganges River in Rautapur Ganga Ghat, in Unnao.(AFP)
Bodies of suspected Covid-19 coronavirus victims are seen partially buried in the sand near a cremation ground on the banks of Ganges River in Rautapur Ganga Ghat, in Unnao.(AFP)

More shallow graves found on Ganga bank

  • The graves triggered panic in the area with many local residents saying they fear the bodies, which are buried around three feet deep into the sand, can be washed into the river if water surges during a high tide.
By Haider Naqvi, Hindustan Times, Unnao
PUBLISHED ON MAY 15, 2021 02:23 AM IST

Hundreds of shallow graves were discovered on the banks of the Ganga in two Uttar Pradesh districts, days after at least 800 bodies were found buried in the sand near the holy river in Unnao.

The graves triggered panic in the area with many local residents saying they fear the bodies, which are buried around three feet deep into the sand, can be washed into the river if water surges during a high tide.

At least 150 corpses have been found floating in the Ganga in Ballia and Ghazipur districts of Uttar Pradesh and Buxar and Patna districts of Bihar, prompting the central government and the National Human Rights Commission to take serious note of the matter.

Local residents said they spotted at least 200 graves at Khereshwar ghat in Kanpur district’s Bilhaur, 60 in Chaubeypur and 60 in Shivrajpur. In Kannauj district’s Nanamau hamlet, at least 300 graves were found and Mehndi Ghat saw the discovery of another 200. “There is a tradition of people being buried here but I have never seen so many graves before,” said Ajay Deep Singh Bais, a resident of Kannauj.

“I saw people bring the bodies here. There is fear over these burials,” said Gudda Thakur, who lives in Mehndi ghat

Subdivisional magistrate (SDM) of Bilhaur, Meenu Rana, went to Khereshwar and recorded the grave site on video on Thursday evening. She refused to comment on the discovery. “The graves came up during the past four weeks and the river beds were never used for burials earlier,” said Piyush Mishra, a former village chief.

Kanpur district magistrate Alok Tiwari was not available for comment. Kannauj district magistrate could not be reached for comments.

Kannauj and Kanpur districts are about 70km apart. No official commented whether the bodies could belong to Covid-19 patients. According to Hindu customs, young people and those who are not married are buried near the river, though local residents said even elderly people were put to rest in recent weeks.

In Unnao, where the district administration ordered a probe into the shallow graves discovered earlier this week, local officials continued to enforce a ban on burying people near the river.

On Thurday, the administration had removed and conducted funerals for around 300 bodies, and around 400 more were done on Friday, said sub-divisional magistrate Daya Shankar Pandey.

An inquiry was ordered by Pandey into the mass burial and how it went unnoticed, officials said on condition of anonymity.

“It has been decided the burial would not be allowed from now on and people would be encouraged to consign the bodies to fire. Anyone not able to afford the cost of wood will be given for free,” said Unnao district magistrate Ravindra Kumar.

At each of these places, local residents said personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and body bags were also found, either buried or dumped. In Kannauj’s Mehndi Ghat, people in PPE kits were seen overseeing burials.

Unnao administration said it launched an inquiry into discovery of PPE kits and body bags and deployed special teams at ghats and rivers beds.

“We would get to the bottom of this and initiate stern action,” Kumar said.

Over the past week, at least 150 bodies have been fished out of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, leading to speculation that they could belong to Covid-19 patients whose families were too poor to afford treatment and funerals. The administration has said that testing the corpses was difficult because they were partially decomposed.

Of this, 82 bodies were recovered from Buxar district in Bihar, four from Patna, 52 in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh and 12 from Ghazipur district of UP.

Both state governments have tightened vigil along the riverbank even as Bihar has alleged that the bodies floated downstream from Uttar Pradesh, which has denied the charge. Police forces and local administration have urged villagers to not dispose bodies in the river.

“Ghazipur administration has capped price of firewood at 650/quintal & ‘dom raja’ would not take more than 500 for cremating a body. We’re setting up a control room at each crematorium where police personnel & lekhpal would be stationed.” Ghazipur district magistrate MP Singh told ANI on Friday.

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