This Friday, the day of Eid and Akshay Tritiya, is not just another day in the covid-19 era for the people of Manikchak, a small town at Bengal-Jharkhand border. The town is situated at the point where river Ganga enters Bengal. With reports of a large number of bodies flowing down the river from UP and Bihar, ostensibly of people who died of covid-19, the fear is palpable in the town.
The administration too has geared up to take such bodies out of the river and cremate them. However, it is easier said than done. The river enters Malda district from Jharkhand’s Sahebganj at Gaduri of Bhutni Char in Manikchak bloc, and at that point it is too wide to keep a vigil on it. So the administration is concentrating on a point several kilometres downstream called Gadai Char, where the width is manageable.
Ordinary boats and speed boats have been pressed into service for locating the bodies. Local boatmen are hired for help as they ‘know the river best’. A specially trained force of the police has also been deployed for the job. The higher-ups of the administration and police are leading the effort. Search lights are being used for keeping watch in the nights. However, the first night did not prove effective as the weather turned foul and heavy downpour of rains affected the range of visibility severely. Thursday night was however better.
Similar efforts are being taken in Bihar too. On Thursday, more than a hundred bodies were located in Buxar of Bihar. The Bihar government says the bodies are coming from UP. Last night more than fifty such bodies were recovered from Ganga in Chandauli of UP. It has been alleged that bodies were also being dumped in the river from Jayaprabha bridge that connects UP’s Balia with Bihar’s Saran district. The authorities there are using nets to stop the bodies from floating further down. Similar efforts are on in other cities like Patna and Bhagalpur in Bihar.
The bodies are being dumped in the river as the crematoriums or burial grounds have been filled to their capacity. The state governments have been asked by the centre to stop this practice immediately. Meanwhile, Bihar and Bengal have geared up to cremate these bodies. The general rule is to bury them five feet under the ground, but if the number is huge the only way out is to burn the bodies.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)