At Bengaluru crematoriums, walk-in Covid fatalities outnumber mapped bodies

Crematorium staff, who work round the clock to cremate the bodies, are irked by severe political pressure to prioritise cremation of those coming with influence

Mass funeral at the open-air crematorium at Giddenahalli, Bengaluru, on Sunday. DH PHOTO/PUSHKAR V

As the walk-in Covid mortality cases outnumber the mapped dead, the BBMP is struggling to implement the cremation process for coronavirus victims across Bengaluru. 

On April 25, the civic body designated seven crematoriums for the funeral of Covid victims, while also instructing officials not to accept walk-in Covid bodies or the remains of those who died for non-Covid reasons. It asked the public to register with the BBMP hearse van services. 

But the ground reality is entirely opposite. "It’s practically impossible to differentiate the BBMP-referred Covid bodies from the walk-ins. May walk in and wait in the queue for hours. We can’t send them back saying they should register with the BBMP," said a staff member at Kudlu crematorium. 

A senior BBMP official echoed similar a opinion, saying the rules have not been implemented right now. "In places like crematoriums where the atmosphere is charged with emotions, we cannot go by the rule book. At least at the ground level, there are no restrictions, anyone can walk in to any crematorium and get the last rites done by moving through the queue,” the official confirmed. 

The crematorium staff said many who waited in the queues for hours were unaware that they should register with the BBMP, noting that turning them back would be inhuman and insensitive. "Even if we try to enforce the orders, the families (of the dead) will get into a fight and things will only get worse," said a worker at the Medi Agrahara crematorium. 

The BBMP helpline (started a week ago) for this purpose receives over 150 calls a day. Nagendra Naik, the BBMP nodal officer for ambulances and hearse vans, said they made sure the bodies were distributed across the crematoria. "Based on the number of people waiting at each crematorium, we allocate a slot to the new one," he said. He confirmed to DH that it is not mandatory for people to register with
the BBMP. 

Political influence

Crematorium staff, who work round the clock to cremate the bodies, are irked by severe political pressure to prioritise cremation of those coming with influence. At least five crematorium staffers recalled instances where they were asked to cremate a body out of turn by politically influential people. Asked about the background of these people, a staffer said: "The requests come from ministers to MLAs and former corporators.”