Abdul Wahid, a resident of east Delhi's Khichripur area, wanted to bury his 55-year-old woman neighbour, who had succumbed to Covid-19, at the nearby Mulla Colony burial ground on Monday. But he, like many others, were turned away by the burial ground for want of space, Wahid said.
"We got her admitted to GTB Hospital on Sunday -- she had some lung infection. However, she succumbed to the virus on Monday. Hospital authorities told us we could choose one of three burial grounds -- at Mulla Colony, Shastri Park, or ITO-Delhi Gate. The first two refused to accommodate the body, leaving us in a fix," said Wahid.
The family then had to arrange for the burial at the ITO-Delhi Gate facility, which is already full, given the sharp rise in daily fatalities due to Covid.
The second wave of Covid-19 across the country -- and the fourth in Delhi -- has turned out to be the deadliest one yet in terms of cases and deaths. Delhi is currently recording an average of 23,000 new Covid cases and 375 deaths over the past six days.
Amid such high numbers, several smaller burial grounds have been facing a shortage of space and are having to turn away bodies.
Suleiman Ali, who manages the one acre Shastri Park burial ground in north-east Delhi, said they have been turning away Covid bodies for 15 days now. "In April itself, we buried around 100 bodies, well beyond the capacity of 25 bodies a month. We had no space left and had to divert the bodies to other burial spaces. We have also asked our attached hospital [GTB hospital] to send bodies elsewhere."
Ali said the burial ground committee has decided to hold meetings with managements of nearby burial grounds to figure out a way to handle the crisis.
East Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor Nirmal Jain said apart from the two burial grounds designated for Covid burials -- Mulla Colony and Shastri Nagar -- they were also preparing burial facilities at Sunder Nagri. "We are currently in the process of preparing the Sunder Nagri burial ground to accommodate more bodies. We have also asked local burial grounds, including Mulla Colony and Shastri Park, to try and accommodate more bodies instead of sending them elsewhere."
The three civic bodies have allotted five burial grounds for Covid-19 deaths -- ITO-Delhi Gate, Mangolpuri, Mulla Colony, Shastri Park and Madanpur Khadar. Since the smaller burial grounds have refused to take in more bodies, the load falls on the ground at ITO-Delhi Gate, which is one of the largest burial grounds in the capital.
Mohammad Shamim, supervisor at the ITO-Delhi Gate burial ground, said, "We have been facing a space crunch for about two weeks and have informed the Waqf board about it. We have been assured of another plot. But unless we get that, we have to struggle to accommodate all bodies and, sometimes, we are forced to divert them elsewhere."
Amanatullah Khan, chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board, which manages most burial grounds in the capital, said there are around 45 active burial grounds in the national capital of which five have been allocated for Covid burials.
"The number of burials has dwindled in the past week and most burial grounds are receiving fewer than 10 bodies a day. The ITO kabristan received 10 bodies in the past two days. We have another burial ground near Indraprastha and have been in touch with the police to allow burials there as well," he said.
Last week, Khan also provided assistance to the Okhla burial ground to use the adjacent plot after they reported a shortage of space. "Due to the shortage of space and issues faced by burial grounds, we have also asked people to bury their dead by following Covid protocols in their localities itself," he said.