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In Ludhiana, families ferry Covid dead in auto, cart; DC orders probe

Families alleged private vehicles demanded as much as Rs 2,500-3,000 to ferry the bodies for few kilometres and since they were unable to afford the amount, they had no option left.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
April 27, 2021 8:02:23 am
The body of a Covid victim is brought in an auto to Ramgarhia crematorium in Ludhiana. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

The unprecedented crisis unspooled by the second Covid wave now stretches from hospitals to cremation grounds with families of the Covid dead even struggling to give their dear ones a dignified send-off.

As kin of Covid patients at Ludhiana Civil Hospital complained of private vehicles asking for a steep price to ferry the dead to the nearby crematorium, not far away at the Dholewal electric crematorium, a son pulled in with his 60-year-old mother’s body in tricycle cart. Minutes before him, a 67-year-old man’s body had been ferried to the same spot in an autorickshaw. Both patients had died at Civil Hospital, Ludhiana.

Their families alleged that private vehicles demanded as much as Rs 2,500-3,000 to ferry the bodies for few kilometres and since they were unable to afford the amount, they had no option left.

“We waited for hours and asked authorities at Civil Hospital to provide an ambulance but they said it wasn’t available. They asked us to arrange our own vehicle. Private ambulances were demanding Rs 2,500-3,000 to transport the body just for 2-3 kilometres. We are poor people and we can’t afford it. We had no option but to hire a three-wheeler that transported the body for just Rs 500. My brother-in-law (son of deceased) is a rickshaw puller and I am a labourer. It wasn’t possible for us to afford Rs 3,000 just to ferry the body to the crematorium,” said Ajay Kumar, son-in-law of Bhagwan Shah (67), whose body was ferried on an autorickshaw to Dholewal crematorium that is earmarked for electric cremations of Covid bodies.

Asked if the hospital staff asked them to wait for the ambulance, he added: “They did not stop us or ask us to wait for the ambulance. They just said that we have to arrange vehicle on our own and when we got the three-wheeler, they helped us in loading the body on it.”

Family of Kanta Devi (60) too alleged that they were forced to ferry her body in a tricycle cart after no ambulance was available at the Civil Hospital.

Her nephew, Sunny, said, “What should poor people do when there is no vehicle available to ferry the body at the hospital? We asked them repeatedly to give us an ambulance but they said it was unavailable. We then had to put the packed body in a tricycle cart and pull it till crematorium. Private vehicles/ambulances outside the hospital are fleecing poor patients and demanding as much as Rs 3,000-4,000 to ferry the body just for few kilometres. We are poor people and we cannot afford such amount.”

Both families told The Indian Express that they were handed over packed bodies after being told by hospital authorities that their kin had tested positive for Covid.

Bodies being taken to Dholewal crematorium in Ludhiana. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

The authorities at Civil Hospital, meanwhile, maintained that both families were asked to wait for ambulances to get free.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Sukhjiwan Kakkar, Civil Surgeon, Ludhiana, said that the Civil Hospital had no ambulance of its own for transporting Covid bodies and it has only got four ambulances provided by the charity organization Samwedna Trust which are used for the purpose.

“On Monday, there was heavy rush for ferry Covid bodies and nine bodies were there in Civil Hospital alone apart from others from private hospitals. Both families were counselled that they should wait for ambulances to get free but they were in hurry and took the bodies on their own in three-wheeler and a handcart. However, we have still marked an inquiry,” said Kakkar.

Asked about private ambulances fleecing patients outside Civil Hospital, Kakkar said, “It is illegal and against rules if private vehicles are demanding such high amounts for transporting Covid bodies. We have four ambulances dedicated for Covid patients (given by Samwedna Trust).”

Varinder Sharma, Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana, said that the incident was ‘very unfortunate’ as every one had the right to a ‘dignified farewell’. “We have marked a probe into both cases to SDM (East) and CMO but prima facie ambulances were busy in ferrying other bodies. However, facts will be clear only after the detailed inquiry and those who will be found guilty won’t be spared,” said Sharma.

Asked why the names of both the deceased were missing in the daily list of Covid deaths issued by district authorities, the DC said: “We need to wait for the probe report.”

Meanwhile, the DC has also set up a committee for ensuring necessary arrangements in the crematoriums and graveyards for cremating/buying bodies of Covid patients.

In the order, he said that the committee would be headed by Commissioner Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana and would have freedom to use any cremation ground and cemetery for cremating and burying bodies of the Covid victims. He warned of an FIR against management of cremation/burial grounds that deny performance of last rites of Covid victims.

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