Several bodies, decomposed, bloated and suspected to be of people who succumbed to COVID-19, were on Monday found floating in the river Ganga in a Bihar district.
In another incident, local residents in Hamirpur district spotted five bodies floating in the Yamuna, creating a scare that these were of COVID patients, an apprehension dismissed by the authorities.
Officials in Chausa block of Buxar, which borders Uttar Pradesh, rushed to the spot of the unseemly sight upon hearing the news.
"We were alerted by the local chowkidar that many bodies have been spotted floating from upstream. We have so far recovered 15 of these. None of the deceased happens to be a resident of the district," Chausa BDO Ashok Kumar told PTI over phone.
He said 'many Uttar Pradesh districts are situated right across the river and the bodies may have been dumped in the Ganges for reasons not known to us. We cannot confirm whether the deceased were indeed COVID 19 positive. The bodies have started decomposing'.
"But we are taking all precautions while ensuring that these are disposed of in a decent manner," he said.
Some news channels claimed the number of bodies to be as high as 100, which the BDO dismissed as 'highly exaggerated'.
Many local residents, who spoke before cameras with their faces masked, claimed that the district administration was 'in denial over many such unfortunate incidents involving residents of Buxar'.
They alleged that those manning cremation ghats were charging a fortune whenever people reached there with the body of a near and dear one who died of the coronavirus.
"There is also a shortage of wood and other material required for cremation. Availability of these has taken a hit because of the lockdown. So many bereaved family members are impelled to immerse the bodies of their departed relatives in the river," one of the residents said.
Often family members of a COVID victim are not handed over the body by the administration which claims it would perform the last rites observing the protocol in place for the deadly virus, another local stated.
"What indeed happens is that the officials develop cold feet later and fearing that they might catch the infection themselves, they dump the bodies in the river and flee. Little do they realise that they are also polluting the river," he added.
The resident had spotted the bodies, including a half-burnt corpse, under a bridge on the Yamuna on May 6, according to an official.
'After speaking to people and looking at the bodies, prima facie, it can be said these were not of COVID-19 patients as these were draped in a traditional manner and no body was wrapped as done in the case of COVID-19 victims,' District Magistrate Gyaneshwar Tripathi said in a statement.
He said all bodies were cremated with full respect.
The DM said local residents told police that people immerse bodies of their family members who die during the 'Panchak Nakshatra' and refrain from their cremation.
The DM said some local fishermen told them that people generally tie a body to boulders and heavy stones before immersing it in the river.
At times, bodies that are not completely burnt are also immersed in the river, the DM said.
But this time, due to shallow water, the bodies came to the surface of the river, triggering panic among people, he said.
The upper riparian district of Kanpur has been informed to take necessary action in this regard while the Hamirpur police has been deployed to keep a vigil, he said.
Talking to PTI over the phone, Hamirpur Superintendent of Police Narendra Kumar Singh admitted that some local residents had spotted the bodies floating in the Yamuna.
"There were five bodies, of which one body was partially burnt. The bodies were handed over to the municipal body for cremation," Singh said.