Following the High Court directive, what are your plans to upgrade the mortuaries?
We have initiated a revamp of all the mortuaries across the city. There are not enough vaults to store the bodies and they lie in the open inside the mortuaries, rotting and spreading infection. First, we are finding out what is the requirement in terms of numbers. We have asked each mortuary for the maximum number of bodies stored in a day. Once we get that figure we will order at least 15 per cent more vaults so that even if the numbers go up over the next few years, it is taken care of. After the new vaults are procured, we will install them and only then can overall cleaning or flooring work begin. The mortuaries cannot be shut down even for a few hours for any cleaning or repair work. So, once the vaults are in place and the existing bodies are shifted to the cold room area, other work will be undertaken. We have also decided to change post-mortem equipment, which have not been replaced for years.
How do you propose to execute your plan?
It will take us 15 days to asses the requirement. Then another one-and-a-half months for the tendering process of procuring the vaults. From then on we will need three months for execution of the plan and at least one more month for fixing the new vaults and cleaning up the area. If the whole system has to be put in place properly, it will take at least six months.
Why did you decide to go on an inspection to the Sabzi Mandi mortuary? Were there any complaints/tip-off?
I had got several complaints and the High Court case also prompted me to make a personal visit. I am glad I went because if I didn’t, I would have never known how bad the situation was. I would have sat in my office and given out orders to change the flooring and clean up the place but when I went to two mortuaries, I saw a terrible sight. I now know what the exact issue is and that no significant change will happen unless new vaults are procured and placed.
The delay in removal of unidentified bodies by the police has led to overcrowding. Are you in touch with the Delhi Police for help on this?
It is mandatory for the police to complete the inquest within 72 hours but here the police take more than two months. The High Court has also directed the police, but if they do not listen to the High Court, I have little hope they will listen to us (Delhi government). We will do the best we can and not rely on anyone else.
Have you planned any relief or assistance for mortuary staff who face health hazards?
During my visit, people did complain that the mortuary staff was being affected by high chances of infection. I went into the mortuaries only for a few minutes and have been feeling unwell since. Hence, I am convinced that this complaint about infection is true. Let us first get the vaults and clean up the whole place and then we will work on providing relief to the staff also. It is a justified demand and will be looked into.
Have you thought of any alternative plans to address the overcrowding at the mortuaries?
In our country, there are no proper laws for eye donation or organ donation. I had sought suggestions from the local medical team at Sabzi Mandi on how we could salvage cornea or some organ before a body deteriorates. That would help a large number of patients waiting for organs. But I was told no state-level legislation can be done and only the Centre can bring in some new law on this. We will write to the Centre on this. Not only for unidentified bodies, even for other natural deaths, we need to bring in awareness and motivate families to agree to organ donation.