Kolkata: Geeta Kumar, a resident of Salt Lake in the satellite town of Kolkata, died of Covid-19 on Saturday evening, but her family members had to wait for nearly 29 hours before they could find a slot at a crematorium in Khardah, nearly 20 km from their place, to perform the last rites on Monday morning.
The family of the 85-year-old Covid patient confirmed that she died at her residence, but it took nearly 17 hours before they could find a place in a morgue on Sunday afternoon. Kumari used to stay with her 80-year-old brother, his wife and their disabled son who have also tested positive for the dreaded virus.
This is not the only case, as the crematoriums in and around Kolkata are flooded with the bodies of mostly Covid victims, whose families are often made to wait for more than 24 hours to perform their last rites.
Even 10 days back, people falling prey to Covid-19 were cremated at Dhapa, Nimtala and Birjunala, but considering the spike in the death toll, four new crematoriums -- Siriti Smashan, Garia Mahasmashan, and the ones at Rajpur-Sonarpur and Baruipur – are being used for the cremation of Covid victims. But now these are also proving inadequate to deal will the rising body-count.
Cremations at the newly added crematoriums are conducted between midnight and 5 am.
"After 5 am, we sanitise the pyres and cremate the non-Covid bodies," a Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) official said.
Sources in the KMC said there are enough hearse vans to carry the dead but the delay happens because the crematoriums are not being able to burn the bodies and a backlog is building up.
A KMC health department official said the actual number of Covid cremations at Nimtala is much higher.
"Every day, no less than 175 Covid bodies are gathering at the crematorium. With our best efforts to utilise the four electric furnaces 24x7, we can cremate only 80 bodies a day," the official said.
However, in recent times, this facility is considered grossly inadequate since going by official figures, KMC needs to arrange for cremation of around 90 bodies at the electric crematorium and 10 bodies at the wooden pyres every day.
The situation is such that in a bid to cremate a huge backlog of bodies, the KMC on Sunday shut the Nimtala electric crematorium for non-Covid bodies.
It has kept only four wooden pyres for non-Covid bodies, but very few could avail this facility considering the queue and cost involved in such type of cremation.
"We will first cremate the Covid victims to clear the backlog. As and when the backlog is cleared, we shall open the gates for non-Covid bodies," said a KMC official.
But on record, the KMC brass has attributed the closure of the crematorium to maintenance of furnaces.
A senior KMC official said that they are also looking for a new burial ground. At present, people dying of Covid are being buried at the Bagmari burial ground.
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