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At Delhi’s two-acre ‘Covid graveyard’, space is at a premium

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on May 03, 2020

Two-acre space for burying Covid-19 patients at 'New Cemetery for Mohamedans,' in New Delhi near ITO

With fatalities rising and space half full, authorities adhere to strict zonal limits

With half of reserved space at New Delhi’s prime burial ground - ‘New Cemetery for Mohamedans,’ already full, and Covid-19 death toll on the rise, space is premium in the capital city.

After seven bodies poured in on April 27, cemetery authorities said that now according to an order by North Delhi Municipal Corporation, they won’t be accepting any bodies that arrive from outside specified zonal limits of the city. From 12.30 pm until 7.30 pm that day Mohammed Shameem (38), supervisor at the cemetery oversaw highest ever burials till date on a single day.

Mohammed Shameem, the cemetery supervisor who guides Covid-19 burials- Photo: Maitri Porecha

 

“Half of the two-acre land patch demarcated for Covid-19 burials has already been utilised (for over fifty graves). Since past three weeks, every day at least one to four burials have occurred here. But we were alarmed to receive seven bodies on a day. The way bodies are pouring in, I think we will run out of land very soon,” Shameem said.

At close to 2 pm on April 27, a grave was being readied for the 15-year-old girl’s burial from Safdarjung Hospital. Two healthcare workers and a driver disembarked from ambulance dressed in hazmat suits. A sole male relative, her brother-in-law arrived separately. He had not brought a personal protective equipment kit consisting of coveralls, gloves, mask and goggles along with him. “Relatives are asked to buy their own PPE kits and ropes to tie the body. The state government should ideally provide a PPE kit. In this case, the relative will handle the body without any protection,” says Shameem.

Health workers from Safdarjung Hospital bring in a Covid-19 deceased 15-year-old girl for burial -Photo: Maitri Porecha

While in routine cases graves up to four feet deep are dug by labourers, Shameem points out that Covid-19 graves are at least 10 feet deep and dug by JCB machine. The private JCB operator charges anywhere between ₹2000 to ₹6000 per family to ready the grave.

“There is no regulation by Delhi government on fixing the JCB price. We have waived off the burial charges, but the government should ensure that a JCB is deployed at state’s cost so that relatives are not harassed,” notes Haji S, committee member of the cemetery.

From a distance, Shameem instructs the sole relative to tie up the deceased’s body and insert it respectfully in the grave. The health workers won’t touch the body.

 In close to thirty minutes, the burial is concluded, and the JCB machine engine whirs as it moves forward to cover up the grave with mud. The 15-year-old’s mother watches her daughter’s burial from a distance.

Mother of 15-year-old girl who was brought in for burial on April 27, grieving her daughter's death   -  Photo: Maitri Porecha

Later that day, the cemetery received an order from the North Delhi Municipal Corporation stating, “Considering the significant increase in number of deaths occurring due to Covid-19 creating pressure on Hindu crematoriums and Muslim burial grounds for deaths taking place in Lok Nayak, GB Pant, Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital, GTB, Hindu Rao and isolation centres in central, east, north-east, south-east, Shahdara district will be taken to New Cemetery for Mohamedans in ITO, or Kalam Welfare Society, JJ Colony or Buland Masjid in Shastri Park. Hindu cremations for these areas will occur at Nigambodh Ghat.”

Alternate arrangements have been made to take bodies from Safdarjung, RML, BSA, Sanjay Gandhi hospital and isolation centres in south, south-west, north-west and north districts in Punjabi Bagh, Dwarka and Rohini, the order further said.

“We were accommodating burial requests from in and around Delhi, but now no more. A Kyrgyz national, two deceased hailing from Tamil Nadu, as also from Ghaziabad and Noida have been brought here for burial. We will now refuse bodies falling out of our zone and these will be redirected to different burial grounds in the city,” Shameem says.

 

Shameem too does not have a PPE kit and has been advised by doctors to not go close to bodies. “As cemetery supervisors, we should be provided PPE kits and life insurance from the state government. We don’t have these facilities. Me and my family have not yet been tested for COVID-19, but I have been asked to report to health workers in case of symptoms,” he says.

Relatives of patients who are seriously ill are also approaching the cemetery to book a spot in advance for a possible burial.

“Relatives are finding it difficult to reserve spots and approach us in advance. Kin of an old man who is currently admitted in one of the Delhi’s hospitals, is on ventilator and his kidneys have failed approached us to inquire about burial. The situation is very dire,” says Shameem.

Published on April 29, 2020

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