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Kedarnath braces for mass cremation

Gautam Dheer Dehradun: June 25, 2013
A man cries in pain as he is carried away by soldiers from an army helicopter during a rescue operation at Joshimath in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand reuters Image

Special teams on Monday started preparing for the mass cremation of hundreds of deluge victims who perished in one of the worst-hit areas of the temple town of Kedarnath.

However, the kin of many of those who have lost their lives in the Uttarakhand floods may not even get to see or perform the last rites of their loved ones.

An estimated 50 tonnes of wood and an equivalent amount of ghee had been requisitioned for mass funeral to be performed by priests. This has been decided amid fear of epidemic since hundreds of  bodies unceremoniously piled up have started to rot and decompose. Weather permitting, the plan was to begin the cremation on Monday. However, funerals will take place in a day or two.

Forest Department workers have been asked to collect logs and whatever combustible wood that is available. Officials involved in the rescue and relief operations said major chunks of roads leading to the temple town have been washed away and the possibility of bringing back the bodies to be handed over to next of the kin may not be a viable option.

DIG Uttarakhand G S Martaulia said DNA samples are being collected by teams of doctors and forensic experts for authentication. All personal belongings found on the mortal remains will be stored safely, he said.

But the decision to cremate hundreds of bodies is likely to lead to problems of authentication, even set off legal disputes, as some of them may have died intestate. Authorities say they have little option given that the priority is to evacuate survivors and not the dead.

They say DNA samples are being collected for purposes of authentication. Besides photographs, video graphing of the deceased is also being done.

K N Pandey, an official with the state disaster management team, said: “We have decided to start mass cremation soon, if the weather permits. The priests of temples have been requested to participate in the final rites.”

Around 120 bodies were recovered from the Kedarnath temple area on Sunday. Many were found in the nearby jungle where tourists took refuge after hotels and other buildings collapsed in the catastrophe.

Sources said Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna had also sought the opinion of Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati on mass cremation. “The families will be given ashes from the common cremation lot. It is not possible to extricate the bodies. Their DNA samples and identification marks will be preserved for identification purposes,” the sources added.


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