COVID-19 and plight of the Ganges.
As per the report, the highest number of daily COVID-19 positives cases that were registered during the peak of the wave were around 4 lakhs plus cases and around 4,000 people lost their battle to the virus. One of the major contributing factors to these deaths was the acute shortage of appropriate essential medical infrastructures like beds in hospitals, ICU facilities, lifesaving drugs, and most importantly the oxygen scarcity that left the patients gasping for breath. It also exposed the harsh reality of the present vacuum in the space of medical practitioners in India.
With the burgeoning cases of infection of COVID-19, the country has witnessed thousands of deaths daily. Due to lack of sufficient resources and due to public catcalls, people living along the banks of Ganges adopted a new resort to conduct the last rites of the deceased, the public on the bank of Ganges started dumping the bodies in the river taking the advantage of the darkness of the night. This practice made headlines and was flashed everywhere in the international, national, and local media when 71 corpses were found floating in the river in the Buxer district of Bihar. This stemmed into a reason of concern and fear amongst the local residents as they were terrorized by the fact that the water source in their vicinity shall become breeding grounds for the coronavirus. This incident was one of its kind across the globe since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. This incident further resulted from a surmounting pressure on the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare as there are no researches and studies to establish that the virus cannot thrive in water bodies. One of the professors of IIT Kanpur, an expert of water and wastewater management, stated “there are extremely fewer chances of contamination of water from coronavirus”. He further added that dead bodies can surely result in water pollution with higher BOD values and it will be a bigger challenge for the people of riparian regions, especially those people who are directly using river water for drinking and other purposes. The report also states that the dumped bodies fish out and undergoes enormous dilution, hence, there are minimal chances of contamination of river water.
Additionally, NitiAayog, a think tank body of the Government of India, has stated “spread of transmission through water is not a concern and there is no reason to worry”. But the larger question that still lays unanswered is that without any substantial study and water sample testing over the complete stretch of Ganges i.e. from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal, before the final merger into the Bay of Bengal, it is still a doubtful case to comment on the arguments of the experts. Additionally, there is no study across the globe which can be referred in this case considering the nature of mutating virus and quality composition of water resource. The government of India should investigate this unforeseen situation resulting due to dumping of dead bodies of covid victims and must plan to conduct random testing of water samples from the stretch to ascertain the quality impacts of dead bodies on the aquatic ecosystem and water quality.
Concludingly, although experts from the Centre of Excellence and think tanks are doing damage control and trying to pacify the situation, the dumping of COVID-19 infected dead bodies raises more questions on the governance and there is no one who can answer them. The oathed government is by the people but, surely it is not of the people and for the people.