The list said 38 dead bodies. “Let’s hold on to one of them: it is a burn case that was brought in four days back, so the relatives might yet turn up,” said one of the employees of the morgue at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi. So, 37 unclaimed bodies had to be scavenged from inside the dark – supposedly cold – room of the state’s premier hospital on Sunday morning. However, when all the bodies were wrapped in polythene and cloth, and then counted, the tally came to 32.
The rest had turned to bones.
Mukti, an NGO formed by some residents of the city, had come forward to perform the last rites for unclaimed bodies at the RIMS. They had done the same in December 21 last year, disposing about 50-60 bodies, according to Mukti members. Almost four months have passed since, and the RIMS, Ranchi Municipal Corporation and district administration did not do anything to dispose these bodies.
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As it turns out, the authorities concerned do nothing to dispose unclaimed bodies at RIMS. According to regulations, a body can be disposed after a 72-hour waiting period; the RMC has the responsibility to do that in the city.
RIMS Director S.K. Choudhary said that there are “cages” inside the cold room that help keep the bodies frozen. “Due to power shortages, this cannot be done effectively,” he admitted. Choudhary claimed this problem would be solved soon. “We have constructed a mortuary with the capacity to hold 50 bodies. It is awaiting inauguration,” he said
An individual who has done so on multiple occasions said that the room has no refrigeration. “It is never cooled. The bodies are just thrown around. There are no lights inside,” said Mohammad Khalid, who runs the NGO Murda Kalyan Samiti. Before Mukti took over last December, he had been disposing bodies at the RIMS since 2010. According to Khalid, who lives in Hazaribagh district, he has cremated over 5,000 bodies across four districts in the state. “I do not employ labourers; I enter these rooms myself to retrieve bodies,” he said.
Director Choudhary said that there were severed limbs in the room since the bodies had been given to the students of RIMS for dissection. “We also provide bodies to two other medical colleges after obtaining the Deputy Commissioner’s permission,” he said. Rajeev Kedia, a member of Mukti, said that he had never seen the bodies in such bad shape before. “It must be the dissection; the bodies look much more disintegrated compared to the last time,” he said.
Meanwhile, four labourers – all of them inebriated in an attempt to withstand the stench – had wrapped up the bodies, the wrapping growing smaller and more misshapen as time went by. They were loaded on to tractors and taken to the banks of the Jumar river on the outskirts of the city. Amarjeet Giridhar of Mukti read out the Antim Ardaas from Guru Granth Sahib after the bodies had been placed on wood supplied by the Forest Department through the RMC. Then the pyre was lit on those 32-and-some bodies.