Cremations raise doubts about Bengaluru's Covid-19 toll figures

As the pandemic tears through Bengaluru, cremations have been continuing non-stop over the past week
kram Mohammed
Last Updated : 23 April 2021, 03:13 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2021, 03:13 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2021, 03:13 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2021, 03:13 IST

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At 10 am on Wednesday, 15 ambulances waited in front of Bengaluru's Kudlu gate crematorium, with a handful of grief-stricken family members in each one of them.

The crematorium, like others in the city, is busier than ever.

"We cremated 33 bodies and 25 were Covid deaths," says Chandru, an employee at the electric crematorium, who is tired and barely gets to sleep these days.

Like him, employees of the crematorium have worked round-the-clock and the last cremation ended at 6.30 am. According to Chandru, 210-220 of the 250-odd cremations at the facility since April have been of Covid-19 victims.

As the pandemic tears through Bengaluru, cremations have been continuing non-stop over the past week at the Kudlu crematorium and others, casting doubt on the state government's Covid-19 death figures.

At the Medina Agrahara crematorium, employees show a ledger of cremations maintained.

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"Before the second wave in April, the highest cremations were in September 2020 when we cremated 548 bodies, of which 529 were from Covid," says Ravish (name changed). The numbers dwindled to nine (out of the 61 cremations) in February, he says.

"Till April 20, we have cremated 296 bodies of which 254 were Covid victims," he says. The facility cremated 42 bodies on April 20, giving an indication of the crisis.

Both Kudlu gate and Medina Agrahara crematoriums received an average of 20-25 bodies over the past week. While five others are operational, the government has decided to open more crematoriums to ensure victims are cremated or buried soon.

The fact that last rites of close to 500 victims were performed in just two crematoria of Bengaluru makes the government's figure of 752 deaths this month suspect.

"Several patients cremated or buried with Covid regulations include those who could not find hospitals. We are not sure whether these deaths figure in the bulletin released by the state yet," an activist involved in burying bodies, under the condition of anonymity, tells DH.

When contacted, Revenue Minister R Ashoka — one of the ministers in charge of the Covid-19 management in the city — says he is not aware of the dispute on Covid death figures. "I am currently overseeing preparations for the temporary crematorium near Yelahanka," he says.

Health Minister K Sudhakar was unavailable for comment. But he has maintained that the government's figures on Covid deaths are genuine.

At the Indian Christian Cemetery, Dominic Joseph clad in a PPE kit awaits the body of his sister. "We could have saved her if we got a ventilator," he says. Fortunately, he found space to bury his kin.

Anne Morris, a volunteer with Mercy Angels, a group that helps bury bodies, says that there were cases some bodies were cremated due to lack of land at burial grounds. "The situation is bad everywhere," says Anne.

Other volunteers of the group show video of a body that arrived in an ambulance on the night of April 20. "With no beds in hospitals, the patient likely died in the ambulance. Nobody touched him. Due to rigor mortis, his hands were by his side, stiff, making the cremation a challenge," she says.

At the Khuddus Saheb Cemetery, two acres assigned for graves of Covid-19 patients shrinks by the day. Volunteers are now resorting to JCBs to dig graves.

"Moreover, the recent rains have made burials difficult," Umar Hashim, a volunteer of Helping Hands, says.

Published 22 April 2021, 19:41 IST

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