Kanpur: Bodies lying in crematoriums, relatives waiting in queue for hours on end to bid farewell to their loved ones, municipal staff making a killing for the otherwise free cremations, with rates fixed for everything — from cutting wood to shifting bodies onto the wooden pyre — Kanpur, one of Uttar Pradesh’s biggest cities, is the latest to battle the Covid-19 horror.
The number of Covid-related deaths have spiralled in the city since 17 April but the official death figures released by the Kanpur district administration every day do not reflect that, municipal corporation staff manning the over half-a-dozen cremation grounds in the city told ThePrint.
On Thursday, 29 April, when ThePrint visited Bhairav Ghat, one of the biggest cremation grounds in the city, the municipal staff had already counted 73 Covid-related bodies that were brought for cremation.
Over 15 more bodies were lying at the crematorium while about a dozen were being burnt on the wooden pyre and in the electric crematorium.
ThePrint does not have the Covid-related figures at the other cremation grounds in the city but the data released by the district administration late Thursday evening showed just 10 deaths.
A day earlier, on 28 April, the municipal corporation had registered 100 bodies at the Bhairav Ghat crematorium alone. But the official figures released for that day showed just 11 Covid-related deaths.
Bhanu Pratap Singh, additional municipal commissioner, Kanpur, told ThePrint, “The number of Covid deaths is going up. We register all Covid dead bodies that come here not only from Kanpur but neighbouring districts such as Unnao and Fatehpur.”
Asked why the district administration figures reflect low death numbers, Singh said, “You ask the district administration…. They collect figures from all hospitals in the district.”
Alok Tiwari, the Kanpur district magistrate, could not talk to ThePrint as he is isolating at home after developing high fever Wednesday. “Both his mother and brother have also tested positive. Sir has sent a message that he is not in a position to talk,” a staffer at his residence said on the phone.
A senior official in the Kanpur municipal corporation, who did not want to be named, said, “You are just seeing the dead bodies in one cremation ground. It’s the same situation in the other crematoriums as well. And we are not even registering those who are dying from Covid-like symptoms at home or those who are dying before their test results come. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
One in three testing positive in city
Every third sample is testing positive in the city with a population of over 45 lakh, an analysis of a week’s data released by the Kanpur district administration shows.
The average Covid positivity rate — proportion of samples that test positive of the total samples tested — has been 31 per cent in the city for the past week ending 29 April (see graphic).
On two of the days — 28 April and 25 April — the positivity rate was 40 per cent and 39 per cent respectively. This, in effect, means that the administration is not testing enough to detect the full extent of spread of infection in the population.
According to the World Health Organization, the optimum positivity rate should be 5 per cent or below.
Doctors in government hospitals in Kanpur told ThePrint, on condition that they not be named, that the actual number of Covid-19 cases in the city would be many many times more. On Thursday, Kanpur recorded a total of 1,656 Covid-19 cases.
‘It’s complete catastrophe here’
On Thursday, Bhairav Ghat crematorium witnessed distressing scenes, with family members running around to get a slot to cremate their loved ones.
A distraught Anoop Mishra was among them. A professor, he had come with his relatives to cremate his 31-year-old cousin Abhishek.
“My cousin worked in Noida. He came home about a month back after his father-in-law got infected with Covid,” Mishra said. “His father-in-law passed away a week ago. After that when Abhishek got himself tested, he too was positive.”
Abishek, Mishra said, started having breathing difficulty about five days ago but the family could not get him admitted as wherever they went, hospitals asked for a referral from the chief medical officer.
“We told them that the UP government has removed this condition,” Mishra said. “But our repeated pleas fell on deaf ears. By the time he got a bed, it was too late. His oxygen level had dipped to single digits.”
Abhishek got married two years ago and has a four-month-old child.
“It’s a complete catastrophe out here. There is no government, no governance here. It’s the sheer lack of preparedness of the district administration that is behind this mismanagement. With what face will this government ask for votes next year?” said Mishra.
There was a glut of similar heart-rending stories, with anger brewing among families over the utter chaos at the cremation ground.
At Bhairav Ghat, there’s a price for everything
With the number of Covid deaths spiking, the Uttar Pradesh government had last week announced that cremation facilities would be provided for free.
On the ground, however, it’s a whole different ball-game.
At Bhairav Ghat, the workers hired by the municipal corporation had fixed rates for everything. “The rate for cutting wood is Rs 2,000. Transporting the wood to the funeral pyre costs another Rs 2,000,” Mishra said. “Another Rs 6,000 is for readying the funeral pyre and burning the body. Overall, one has to shell out Rs 10,000.”
Those who can’t pay have to fend for themselves and wait until the other cremations are over.
“Here, they are charging for everything. Those who have the money are getting a slot earlier despite not being in the queue,” said Prabal Singh, a Rae Bareli resident, who had come to cremate his mother-in-law.
“I have been here since noon but am yet to get a slot,” added Singh, whose mother-in-law passed away at a city hospital in Kanpur Wednesday night.
Asked about workers charging for every service at the cremation ground, the additional municipal commissioner Bhanu Pratap Singh said all such complaints will be dealt with strictly.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)