Residents staying near two crematoriums in Bharuch district prevented the district authorities from cremating the body of a 60-year-old retired police constable, who died of Covid-19, on Friday, and the body had to finally be cremated on banks of the Narmada River on a wooden pyre, on Saturday.
Residents of colonies located around two crematoriums in Ankleshwar and Bharuch towns held aggressive protests on Friday and Saturday, holding up the cremation for over 24 hours — this was the district’s second case requiring a cremation, the earlier ones having been burial rites.
For around 24 hours, officials of the district administration tried to convince protesting residents in Ankleshwar to allow the cremation of the deceased as per the safety protocol but they refused to budge. The deceased, who had tested positive for Covid-19 this week and was subsequently admitted to the designated Jayaben Modi Hospital in Ankleshwar, died on Friday afternoon, officials said. As per the protocol, the body was disinfected and wrapped in three layers of plastic and taken to the Shantidham Ankleshwar crematorium, which is located five kilometres away from the hospital and is a notified Covid-19 crematorium for the district, with gas furnace facility.
Of the 13 Covid-19 deaths in the district so far, 10 deceased have been buried according to their religious beliefs while one cremation was performed as per protocol by the family in Jambusar taluka in the district.
But as news of the possible first Covid-19 cremation reached the neighbourhood, residents gathered at the crematorium and got into a heated argument with officials, citing health concerns and “possible spread of Covid-19 from the smoke” from the cremation.
Sub Divisional Magistrate, Bharuch, NR Prajapati, who personally went to both the crematoriums to urge residents to rethink their stand, told this newspaper, “We explained to the residents that all over the world bodies of Covid-19 patients were being disposed of without any spread of infection as strict protocols are being followed. But they refused to agree. So the body was taken back to the hospital for the night.”
On Saturday morning, after another attempt to convince the residents, the district magistrate instructed the officials to take the body to the Bharuch crematorium, which is about 10 kilometres away.
Meanwhile, another Covid-19 patient also died at the Covid-19 hospital in Ankleshwar and the authorities were left with the task of cremating two bodies — the second body was also taken to Bharuch. Both the deceased were males, above 60 years of age, officials said.
“We faced a similar opposition there. Finally, we decided to cremate the deceased in an open space about one kilometre away from the Bharuch crematorium on the banks of the Narmada River — the area actually falls under the jurisdiction of Ankleshwar taluka. The residents were opposed to even this idea but there was no other choice as disposing the body was the priority,” Prajapati said.
District Collector MD Modiya said that the opposition has meant that the administration is looking for other options to cremate Covid-19 deceased from now on.
“It is unfortunate that at such a time, people are not able to show sympathy and humanity. They are paranoid about the rising number of cases in the district and have been misinformed that disposing of bodies of Covid-19 patients causes further spread of the virus. We are assessing if we can make arrangements for another cremation site. But it will not be possible to move the gas chamber from the Ankleshwar crematorium.”
Superintendent of Police, Bharuch, Rajendra Chudasma said that the police has not registered any case against the protestors yet, but the district administration can seek police action if needed.
“There is a provision under the Epidemic Diseases Act to book cases against the protestors and we can do it. But we did not want to use any force today as disposing of the bodies was our priority and we did not want to complicate the matters. We will take a decision on this issue soon,” Modiya added.
Bharuch has recorded 294 positive cases of Covid19 until Saturday.
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