More than 150 bodies reportedly found near the banks of Ganga river in northern Bihar state, with officials saying they were bloated and decomposed, as if they had been in the river for at least five to seven days.

A medical staff prepares to transfer the body of a patient who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus disease into an ambulance at a mortuary in New Delhi on April 29, 2021.
A medical staff prepares to transfer the body of a patient who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus disease into an ambulance at a mortuary in New Delhi on April 29, 2021. (AFP)

More than 150 bodies, suspected to have been Covid-19 patients who died of the virus in India, have been found dumped in northern river Ganga, local media reported.

The bodies, found by horrified residents, were floating in the river and some dumped on the banks in northern Bihar state, Times of India news website reported on Monday. 

"Locals fear that these covid bodies will be washed down further and can be eaten by stray dogs which will further spread coronavirus," it reported. 

Locals told AFP that they believed the bodies had been dumped in the river because cremation sites were overwhelmed or because relatives could not afford wood for funeral pyres.

"It is really shocking for us," local resident Kameshwar Pandey told AFP.

Indian coronavirus infections and deaths held close to record daily highs on Monday, increasing calls for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lock down the world's second-most populous country.

The Health Ministry reported 366,161 new Covid-19 infections and 3,754 more deaths on Monday. 

India's total caseload now stands at 22.66 million, with 246,116 deaths.

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"The local administration believes the bodies floated down from Uttar Pradesh and belong to Covid patients whose relatives may have been unable to find space to cremate or bury them," NDTV news channel reported.

The bodies were said to be bloated and decomposing bodies, implying they had been in the water "for at least five to seven days," according to official KK Upadhyay.

Reason behind dumpings

Officials say the bodies floated down the Ganga from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state.

On Thursday, locals in Uttar Pradesh's Hamirpur spotted over a dozen bodies floating in the Yamuna river.

"Speculation grew about the bodies being of those villagers who succumbed to coronavirus," India Today reported. 

"Some are even saying that the sheer number of Covid-19 casualties in villages in Hamirpur is such that bodies of the victims are being floated on the river as cremation grounds are overwhelmed with the numbers," it said. 

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According to NDTV, some locals claimed that fear of cremation led to bodies being immersed in rivers.

"In the second wave of the pandemic, people have died in large numbers in villages and people out of fear are not helping one another. In such a scenario, they are dumping their dead into the rivers," local official Dinesh Nigam told Hindustan Times news paper. 

The region's additional Superintendent of Police, Anoop Singh, told media that instead of burning the remains of their relatives, many families "preferred to immerse them in the river as the last rites."

Singh said they were looking into the matter. 

An investigation is under way and efforts to identify the deceased have begun, local media reported. 

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Proof of under counted deaths

Opposition Congress and other experts say that the floating bodies are proof of the undercounted Covid-19 deaths in the country. 

In an AFP news agency interview, World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan meanwhile said "early signs were missed (in India) until it reached the point at which it was taking off vertically", meaning "it's multiplying at a rate at which it's very difficult to stop".

Mass election rallies held by Prime Minister Modi and other politicians have for instance partly been blamed by some for the staggering rise in infections.

But even as many in India felt the crisis was over, dropping mask-wearing and other protection measures, the virus was quietly spreading.

"A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions," Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.

Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the main opposition Congress party, blamed the government for abdicating its responsibility by leaving vaccinations to states, Reuters partner ANI said on Twitter.

Delhi's health minister said the city was running out of vaccines, with just three to four days of supplies remaining of AstraZeneca, made by the Serum Institute of India and branded Covishield, the NDTV news channel reported.

By Monday, the world's largest vaccine-producing nation had fully vaccinated just over 34.8 million, or about 2.5 percent, of a population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies