06:58 GMT23 June 2021
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    Over the past month, hundreds of bodies, allegedly COVID-19 victims, have been found floating in the Ganges or buried in the sand in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. As pictures of these corpses emerge online, experts say India has been under-reporting its virus death toll.

    As the Narendra Modi-led government faces criticism over the number of bodies found floating in the country's rivers, a public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in India's top court demanding a policy to protect the rights of the dead.

    The plea filed by Delhi-based NGO Distress Management Collective argues that specific legislation is needed to ensure that those who die are given a dignified cremation or burial. 

    According to the NGO, the Supreme Court should issue guidelines to India's states and Union Territories (UTs) regarding rates for cremations, burials, and ambulance services to stop people being overcharged. Additionally, the plea seeks strict penal action against states for non-compliance.

    "In view of the fact that issue of floating dead bodies in River Ganga has attracted unwanted global media attention, it is imperative that this Hon'ble Apex court directs the Centre to consider the gravity of the issue and enact a law that ensures dignity and the rights of the dead," the plea reads.

    It adds that overcharging for cremations and ambulances is directly related to the dumping of bodies in the Ganges. Many families have reportedly resorted to such measures because they simply can't afford to cremate their relatives. Multiple reports say that the cost of cremating the dead in India has now risen to around $400 from $70 in April.

    However, bodies are still being pulled out of the river and the way in which the authorities are treating these remains is being criticised on social media.

    Warning: The following video is graphic and may offend sensibilities.

    Recently, a body fished out of the Ganges in the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh state was given a makeshift cremation using tyres and petrol as the police and local officials looked on from a distance.

    The horrifying images of floating dead bodies have forced the government into action. Cops are now patrolling the banks of waterways and state authorities have created a network of free cremation sites. The government has also made firewood and priests available to families of COVID-19 victims.


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