For nearly a year-and-a-half, Durga’s daughters thought their mother who died at the height of Bengaluru’s first Covid wave had been given a proper cremation. Their only surviving parent, Durga died on July 5 last year, at a time when the city was struggling under a virus surge. On Saturday, her body was among two discovered from an old mortuary building in a government-run hospital in the city, after about 500 days of their death.
The housekeeping staff went in to clean the abandoned mortuary at Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Model Hospital, which falls under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, after complaints of a foul smell. While Durga, 42, a resident of K P Agrahara was declared dead due to Covid on July 5 last year; the other person whose body was found was Muniraju, 68, of Chamarajpet, a father of three girls, who died on July 2.
“Durga’s small daughters (15 and 10 now) lost both their parents in a span of two years. Now after 500 days, police say her body had been abandoned at a hospital. What do I tell them?” Durga’s sister Sujatha G B said Monday.
A police officer said that when ESIC Hospital’s old mortuary was pulled down and replaced by a new building, officials failed to check the freezer where the bodies were kept.
At the time, Bengaluru was struggling to cope with the Covid spread amid rising cases and deaths. The bodies of those who died due to the virus were not handed over to families by the government, amidst fears that this might further transmit the disease, with the last rites either carried out by the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) itself, or in the presence of family members.
Durga and Muniraju’s families were in shock and anger Monday, as their cremations were carried out.
Sujatha, a garment worker, told The Indian Express: “Durga lost her husband, an alcoholic, in 2019. She had only started hoping to give a better life to her daughters when she died due to Covid.”
Sujatha said the municipal authorities sent her a notice regarding the cremation at the time, adding that she could join. “At the time we all feared the virus and I did not want to put the children’s lives in risk. We asked them to cremate the body. Later, we performed all the rituals.”
Describing her shock on receiving the call that Durga’s body had been discovered, Sujatha said: “Initially, I did not believe it, but then they shared more details.”
Sujatha, who looks after Durga’s daughters, said she sent the two to school and then reached the Rajajinagar Police Station under which the hospital falls around 9am. The body, moved to Victoria Hospital for post-mortem, was finally handed over to the family around 5 pm. “All I had to identify her was the tag on her body,” said Sujatha.
Muniraju’s youngest daughter Rajeshwari said they could not believe what they were hearing when an official from the Rajajinagar Police Station asked her to come and identify the body. “Following our father’s death, we had not been able to perform the last rites, leaving it to the BBMP. We were told the body had been cremated. We performed the 11th-day rituals as well as observed the first death anniversary.”
BJP MLA and former minister Suresh Kumar slammed the “inhumane” episode and demanded an inquiry and stern action against the officials responsible. He said he had written a letter to the Labour Ministry demanding the same.
BBMP Chief Health Officer Dr Balasundar A S said it seemed the hospital had been negligent. “I have sought a report from the field officers and action will be taken if there was negligence on the BBMP staff’s part,” he told The Indian Express.
Medical Superintendent Dr Imtiham Hussain’s phone was switched off. He did not respond to messages.