As the ghastly memories of deadly COVID-19 infections and overflowing mortuaries remain fresh, a horrifying incident has come to light in Bengaluru where two bodies of COVID-19 patients were recovered 16 months after their death.
The incident has raised concerns over the gross mismanagement of COVID-19 victims' bodies at a time when the country was reeling under a deadly pandemic.
Lack of coordination between the Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESI) hospital, where the bodies were found 16 months later, and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has come to light.
The hospital failed to inform the BBMP to cremate the bodies, the civic authority failed to take stock of the total number of COVID-19 bodies, and the cremation could only be done 16 months after the bodies were found in a freezer, leaving the families shattered for the second time.
COVID-19 Bodies Discovered 16 Months Later
The shocking incident came to light on 26 November, when the cleaning staff noticed a foul smell near the freezers at the old mortuary and discovered the bodies of the two COVID-19 victims.
Both the patients had tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020, after which they were admitted to the ESI Hospital, which comes under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The two bodies were identified as Durga (female, 40), a resident of Chamarajpet and Muniraju (male, 35), a resident of KP Agrahara.
The bodies were moved to Victoria Hospital for post-mortem and the cremation of both the bodies was conducted on 29 November.
BBMP Calls Out Negligence by Hospital
Speaking to The Quint, BBMP Commissioner Gaurav Gupta said, “The onus lies with the hospital. If there is a body at your home, will you blame the cleaning staff or take the responsibility? The bodies were found in the premises of the hospital, why did they not take any action?”
Meanwhile, a case of unnatural death has been registered and the police have assured action once hospital authorities complete the inquiry on their part.
Did Hospital, Health Department Hide COVID-19 Fatalities?
The shocking discovery of two COVID-19 victims’ bodies months after their death has raised some crucial questions over the COVID-19 crisis management in Karnataka.
Was the death of every COVID-19 patient accounted for? Were the fatality numbers provided by the government true?
The Quint tried reaching out to the ESI Hospital authorities, however, there was no response.
Not only were the families kept in the dark, they were also denied their rightful compensation that was to be offered to them after their loved ones succumbed to COVID-19.
Family Could Not Attend ‘Cremation’
In July 2020, the two bodies were shifted to an old mortuary to be handed over to the BBMP, which was responsible for cremation of bodies.
As per the COVID-19 protocols prevailing during July last year, the BBMP was responsible for the cremation of victims’ bodies and the bodies were not handed over to the families or relatives of the deceased.
Sujatha, Durga's sister, who now looks after her daughters, said that she had received a notice from the municipal authorities regarding the cremation at the time, but she could not attend it as the virus was at its peak.
She also said that she was worried about the children’s health and could not afford to put them at risk.
Families of the deceased said that the hospital authorities had confirmed last year that they had cremated the bodies and assured the families that they need not be worried. The families were also told that they will receive all the necessary papers for the same.
Govt Built New Mortuary, Bodies Left To Rot in Old One
As COVID-19 cases spiked drastically last year, the hospital's old mortuary ran out of space to keep the dead bodies. In December 2020, the Karnataka government had built a new mortuary in the ESI Hospital.
However, the bodies of these two victims were left in the freezers of the old mortuary and were discovered 16 months later on 26 November.
No Dignity in Death, Family Left Betrayed
Durga’s daughters were under the impression that their mother, who had died due to COVID-19 in July last year, had been given a proper cremation.
But the ground reality left her family shocked and angry.
“I got to know about the incident after the hospital called me and asked me to come sign some papers. I did not know what was happening,” Sujatha told the media.
Govt Calls It 'Unfortunate', Assures Strict Action
Speaking to The Quint, Rajajinagar MLA Suresh Kumar referred to the incident as “inhuman and ghastly.”
Kumar also wrote a letter to the Karnataka Labour Minister A Shivaram Hebbar, requesting a probe and strict action against those responsible for the incident.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar responded to the incident and termed it ‘unfortunate.’
Speaking to the media, the minister said, "ESI Hospital is an important facet of government hospitals. Such incidents should not be repeated. I will speak to the BBMP officials. I concede that it is a lapse on the part of the government.”