Lucknow: A video of labourers removing pieces of cloth covering shallow graves along the Ganga in Prayagraj, suspected to be of those who died of Covid, has been circulating on social media since Tuesday morning. The viral video shows several labourers removing the covers from the bodies, and also taking away bamboo sticks that had been used to mark the burial sites at the Shringverpur ghat in Prayagraj district.
District administration officials claimed that this might have been done unintentionally during a ‘safai abhiyan’ (cleaning drive). Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM), Soraon, Anil Chaturvedi, under whose jurisdiction Shringverpur ghat falls, told ThePrint: “It might have been done unintentionally during the cleaning of the ghats.”
Chaturvedi explained: “People who come to cremate bodies at the ghats sometimes leave behind their clothes, PPE kits, and timber at the ghats (to reduce the chances of carrying the infection back home). So we asked labourers to clean the ghats. But pieces of cloth from the graves or bamboo sticks were not removed, to my knowledge. We are doing it in a proper way so that ghats do not look dirty.”
The district administration, however, formed a committee of two officials to probe the incident late Tuesday evening.
Last week, bodies were found buried in the sand on the banks of the Ganga in Prayagraj. This caused panic among people living in nearby areas. Photos of decomposing bodies being exposed, as the sand covering them was blown away by the wind, also went viral. It has not yet been confirmed whether the bodies found were of Covid patients. The administration has also not revealed the number of bodies that were found.
However, some sources in the administration told ThePrint that the removal of the pieces of cloth and bamboo sticks marking the graves was an attempt by the UP administration to check criticism for the way the bodies of purported Covid patients were being disposed of.
Contradicting Chaturvedi’s claim of having no knowledge about the removal of the pieces of cloth, a source in the administration told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that even within the system, “these directives were being viewed as a damage control measure”.
“Photographers come daily and click photos, which go viral . The administration also deployed a team to cover the bodies, after several bodies were exposed owing to the rain,” the source said.
However, the source added that “along with this, a ‘safai abhiyan’ was also underway near the ghats, by the direction of the municipal corporation of the city”.
A priest who works at the Shringverpur ghat also told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that two grave diggers and nearly two dozen labourers removed the pieces of cloth covering the bodies and bamboo sticks marking the graves. They were taken away in a trolley, and later, burned.
The priest added that he had heard of a similar exercise being carried out Monday morning at the Phaphamau ghat.
However, speaking to ThePrint, Neeraj Singh, municipal corporation zonal officer, under whose jurisdiction Phaphamau ghat falls, said: “We are running a safai abhiyan to clean the ghats, but the video which has been circulating is of Shringverpur ghat. The municipal corporation is only cleaning the Phaphamau Ghat. We are removing dirty clothes, PPE kits, discarded by families who bring bodies to be cremated here.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)