COVID-19 deaths in Bareilly: Cemeteries, crematoria report daily stream of bodies, but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

District authorities maintain that a 'significant number' of bodies do not originate from the district but are from Kanpur, Kasganj, Uttarakhand, Pilibhit, Badaun, Lucknow, and even Nepal.

Mohammad Sartaj Alam April 30, 2021 12:09:39 IST
COVID-19 deaths in Bareilly: Cemeteries, crematoria report daily stream of bodies, but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

There is disagreement between authorities and crematorium/graveyard managers about the tolls in Bareilly. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

Uttar Pradesh: "There have been around 185 deaths [in 2021] here due to COVID-19 ," said Bareilly chief medical officer Dr Sudhir Garg on Thursday, "While in the last three days, there have been three or four deaths." This stands contrary to accounts from the the five burial grounds and crematoria, which have reported a steady stream of bodies, of those whom relatives say died of COVID-19 . On Wednesday alone, a total of 50 bodies were cremated at Bareilly's Sanjay Nagar and City Crematoria. There have been over 12 lakh cases of COVID-19 recorded in Uttar Pradesh, with over 12,000 deaths, but information about specifics is still hard to come by.

Much like the rest of Uttar Pradesh, Bareilly has been ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. "On a normal day, 10 to 12 bodies used to brought to our crematoria," said a senior official of the managing committee of Bareilly's largest crematorium, the City Shamshan Bhoomi, requesting anonymity. He added, "But a week ago, the number of bodies suddenly rose to 20, which gradually increased to 22, 25, 28 and then, 30. There's so much fear of coronavirus among people that only one or two members of the deceased's family come for the last rites, whereas under normal circumstances, a large number of people come for the funeral procession."

COVID19 deaths in Bareilly Cemeteries crematoria report daily stream of bodies but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

A funeral procession makes its way to Takiya Mewari burial ground. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

On one hand, the authorities provide a very low estimate of the number of bodies being brought to one of Bareilly's five crematoria and on the other, cremation ground managers cite a very high number. According to district officials, its bodies belonging to other districts that account for these discrepancies. Due to the rising body count, the City Shamshan Bhoomi committee member has overseen the erection of nine new pyres. "Thirty-three bodies were cremated today," he said on Wednesday, adding, "I am mentally shattered. I have not seen so many bodies in my entire life. Today, 33 bodies arrived. Thirty-two were cremated yesterday, while 50 bodies came here for last rites the day before."

In total, this adds up to 115 bodies at one cremation ground in three days. This is far removed from the 'three or four' figure quoted by Garg.

COVID19 deaths in Bareilly Cemeteries crematoria report daily stream of bodies but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

Crematorium workers at the City Shamshan Bhoomi. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

Meanwhile, over at Bareilly's second-largest cremation facility, the Sanjay Nagar Crematorium, an official who oversees operations (who requested anonymity) said, "Seeing all the bodies, the heart just wants to weep. We've never witnessed such a situation in our entire lives. We have 40 to 42 dead bodies coming here every day. On normal days, we have around five to 10 bodies. Since the past six days, the situation has been miserable to the extent that funeral processions are taking place from 5 am to 11 pm. Of all the bodies being brought, most deaths are due to COVID-10. Initially, we had 20 pyres, but we had to build seven more due to the COVID situation."

His view is corroborated by a private ambulance driver (who requested anonymity), who transported the bodies to the Sanjay Nagar Crematorium. He said, "The number of bodies has risen sharply in the past six to seven days. Today, the situation is that the funeral pyres are constantly busy and so , people have to wait. There are five crematoria in our city but those who do not find a place for cremation go along the banks of the Ramganga river. It is not possible to estimate the actual number of daily deaths in the city, and this makes it more difficult to obtain the number of deaths due to COVID-19 ."

COVID19 deaths in Bareilly Cemeteries crematoria report daily stream of bodies but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

A body being prepared for burial. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

The Bareilly administration, on its part, is less forthcoming with information. When this correspondent reached out to Dr Anurag Gautam to confirm the total number of cases and deaths per day, he said, "We are not allowed to make the COVID data public. You should contact the Chief Medical Officer of Bareilly." Upon contacting CMO Garg, he initially refused to share the figures, saying instead, "We do not make any COVID bulletins. A one-pager is compiled, which I cannot give you. You should contact Additional Chief Medical Officer Dr Ranjan Gautam."

COVID19 deaths in Bareilly Cemeteries crematoria report daily stream of bodies but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

A graveyard in Bareilly. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

Despite repeated attempts, the ACMO was unreachable. Eventually Garg gave this correspondent the figure of 185 deaths in 2021 and a daily toll of three to four deaths. When the number of people being cremated daily was brought up, he replied, "These bodies do not belong to our district. They all belong to other districts like Kanpur, Kasganj, Uttarakhand, Pilibhit, Badaun, Lucknow etc, and from Nepal." The Sanjay Nagar Crematorium official seemed to disagree with this version, stating, "Some bodies come from outside, but 80 percent of the bodies are from Bareilly."

Garg maintained, "These people come to Bareilly for treatment. If they die, their bodies do not go to their home district. In this situation, the last rites are performed at Bareilly cremation ground by Hindus and at the graveyard by Muslims." When asked for clarity about the data for deaths in Bareilly and other districts, he said, "We only keep the data of our district. We do not keep the data of other districts."

COVID19 deaths in Bareilly Cemeteries crematoria report daily stream of bodies but district officials say only 185 died in 2021

Bodies being prepared for cremation at the City Shamshan Bhoomi. Firstpost/Mohammad Sartaj Alam

According to a member of the committee of the Takiya Mewari, the Muslim graveyard, "Many bodies have come here for burial in the past six days, and to my knowledge there is not a single body f another district. These are all bodies of local people." Local social worker Aslam Chaudhary said, "The first thing is that if the people from other districts were undergoing treatment here and they died during the treatment, it is clear how pathetic the healthcare system is in those districts. Second, after the death of their loved ones, any family would want to take the bodies back to their homes so that the last rites could take place in the presence of the family and loved ones."

"If somehow the families are unable to take back the bodies due to an inevitable situation, then the funeral is done in a crematorium or cemetery in Bareilly. The number of such cases is very small. According to me, around five percent are outsiders. In comparison, the daily number of burials in the cemeteries of Bareilly city is around 70 to 80, which is higher than normal. Therefore, I request the administration to make the past six days' data public."

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