By LE Desk

New Delhi, June 28, 2021: The horrific sight of dead bodies floating on the Ganga following the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is a “serious problem”, the Supreme Court said today. 

The top court was hearing a petition on the framing of policies to protect the rights of the dead.

The two-member bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta, however, directed the petitioner to approach the NHRC which has already issued some directions in this regard, reported NDTV.

“Go before the National Human Rights Commission. How many forums can you approach? It is a serious problem… we know. You referred to NHRC recommendations… go to NHRC,” the bench said.

Issued last month, the NHRC recommendations included enacting “specific legislation to protect the rights of the dead” and setting up of temporary crematoriums.

The petitioner had moved the top court for help in framing policies to protect the rights of the dead, including action against overcharging for cremating those who died of COVID-19.

In the argument the petitioner — an NGO called Distress Management Collective — referred to the dozens of bodies of people who died of Covid that were dumped in the Ganga in May.

In early May, the peak of the second wave, when 3,000-4,000 Covid-related deaths were reported every day as per official figures, hundreds of bodies of suspected coronavirus patients began washing up along the banks of the Ganga in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

It was assumed the bodies were of Covid victims from rural areas, where, in the absence of protocols, locals afraid of the virus spreading any further dumped the bodies into the river. The initial wave of dead bodies was followed by dozens every day, triggering a public health scare and, more predictably, a political blame game between the UP and Bihar governments, NDTV said.

There were also reports, denied by the government, that people were dumping the bodies because of the exorbitant price of firewood for cremations. Worse, apart from bodies being dumped in the Ganga, soon they also began to be uncovered from shallow, hastily-dug graves along the river banks; graves that also led to visuals of grave-robbing.

The central government stepped in mid-May, asking both Bihar and UP to prevent further dumping of bodies, and focus on a dignified cremation and safe disposal of remains.

Meanwhile, in another hearing in the Supreme Court today, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan declined to hear a PIL seeking a probe against authorities responsible for those bodies. The petitioners were asked to move the concerned authorities in each case, NDTV said.

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