On the way to cremate their uncle who died after testing positive for Covid-19, two cousins suffered scorching heat inside PPE kits for hours, pushed an ambulance across a river bank and fell unconscious while officials refused to help for fear of contracting the virus, relatives have alleged.
Vimal Zadoo (43) and Vipan Zadoo (30) died on the banks of the Tawi near Sidhra on June 18. Both tested negative for Covid-19.
Jammu District Magistrate Sushma Chauhan ordered a magisterial inquiry and announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin. Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu on Monday approved ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each to the next of kin of both.
Meanwhile, a row erupted over the deaths, with family members and political parties accusing the UT administration of not following Health Ministry guidelines on handling the body of a coronavirus patient.
Vimal and Vipan’s uncle, who had a travel history to Delhi, tested positive last Wednesday and died at Government Medical College (GMC) Hospital in Jammu the same day. Following a call from a revenue official, Vimal and Vipan accompanied the deceased’s son to the hospital next morning, relatives said.
The family said that around 11.30 am, the hospital staff made all three wear PPE kits and go inside the mortuary to identify the body and bring it out. Thereafter, they were made to board the ambulance along with the body and proceed towards Sidhra.
Around 12.15 pm, the ambulance reportedly stopped opposite the entrance of Golf Course at Sidhra. The driver and three cousins sat inside the vehicle for 15 minutes, waiting for an official to guide them to the cremation site, the relatives said. One of them added that it was 46 degrees Celsius and the trio, in PPE kits, appeared restless in the heat.
In the meantime, Amit Zadoo, another relative, arrived in his own vehicle and led the ambulance to the cremation shed beside the Tawi. Upon arrival, one of the ambulance’s occupants started vomiting, even as a revenue official called the others to take the body to another location along the riverbank.
By then, police arrived and the ambulance was led towards the riverbed. Five hundred metres on, a tyre got stuck and the family members were allegedly asked to push the vehicle. Vimal was the first to fall unconscious, said a relative. The others asked for water, and soon Vipan and the deceased’s son lost consciousness.
With no help forthcoming, Amit picked up the deceased’s son and rushed him to hospital and he revived, the relatives said.
Vimal and Vipal lay there for hours, with the family alleging that no revenue officials and police came forward to help for fear of coronavirus infection. Both died of dehydration, a relative said.
The BJP demanded a judicial inquiry, accusing the administration of putting the responsibility of handling the body of a coronavirus patient on relatives, and demanded an FIR against officials guilty of negligence.
NC provincial president Devender Rana sought an NHRC probe, saying that “not only was the necessary protocol ignored, but no compassion or attention was shown by the designated personnel which led to the unfortunate deaths”.
When asked why no health worker accompanied the body and how the cremation was left to untrained relatives, GMC Principal Dr Naseeb Chand Dhingra asked The Indian Express to contact GMC Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Dara Singh. The latter did not respond to repeated calls.
Director, National Health Mission in Jammu and Kashmir, Bhupinder Kumar, who is also the designated nodal officer to deal with Covid-19 cases, refused comment in view of the ongoing magisterial inquiry.
L-G Murmu also approved ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of Kamal Kumar, a resident of Chhapaki Kalaan who died in administrative quarantine in Kathua on Sunday. The DM has ordered a probe into the death.
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