Bodies of two Covid patients found in mortuary 15 months after they died

Families of deceased allege they were told loved ones had been cremated

Shweta Sharma,Andy Gregory
Tuesday 30 November 2021 12:33 GMT
File image: An undertaker worker pushes a coffin carrying a deceased Covid-19 victim into a mortuary van at a morgue in Austria
File image: An undertaker worker pushes a coffin carrying a deceased Covid-19 victim into a mortuary van at a morgue in Austria (Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images)

The decomposing bodies of two Covid-19 patients have been discovered in a mortuary in India more than 15 months after their deaths last year.

The grisly discovery came to light this weekend during a scheduled cleaning at the mortuary of ESIC Rajajinagar Hospital in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), when staff chanced upon the bodies lying forgotten in a freezer, police and hospital officials told The Independent.

Hospital officials said the bodies were wrapped in sealed body bags signifying them as Covid victims, and that they were still carrying identifying tags. They have been named as Durga Sumithra, a 40-year-old woman, and N L Muniraju, a 67-year-old man.

Both of them died during the first wave of the pandemic on 2 July 2020, three days after they were admitted to the hospital which is run by the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), a state body.

An official at Rajajinagar police station, who asked not to be named, said police received a call from the hospital on Saturday morning informing them that cleaning staff had found the two bodies in the mortuary.

“The mortuary in which the bodies were found was closed in December 2020 and the hospital has a second mortuary now. A foul smell was reeking out of some freezers when staff decided to open it and found two bodies inside,” the police officer said.

“We called the families to come for identification of the bodies and sent them for post-mortem. The bodies, wrapped in body bags, were returned to the families for final rites,” he added.

Family members of the two deceased described their shock at being called by police to come and identify the bodies of their loved ones — 15 months after first being informed of their deaths.

The families did not see the bodies at the time of their deaths and were told by hospital authorities that they would be cremated by the state, as with Covid cases raging in the country at the time there were chances of transmission from the mishandling of pandemic victims.

GB Sujata, the elder sister of Sumithra, told The Independent that she had been taking care of her sister’s two children since she first fell sick last June, as their father had died earlier.

“My sister Durga had already lost her husband in 2019 and she died of Covid last year. We received a call three days back to identify the body of my sister. We were in disbelief and told them she died last year and the body was cremated. But they explained to us the body was never cremated,” she said.

Ms Sujata said she has not told the two daughters, who are 11 and 15, about the rediscovery of their mother’s body. “They will be shattered and heartbroken. They have already seen so much,” she said.

Satish Kumar, Muniraju’s son-in-law, said he had gone to hospital at the end of June 2020 “after complaining of chest pain”. “He died on 2 July 2020 but we were never [informed] if he was a Covid patient or non-Covid as the result for the Covid test was still pending,” Mr Kumar said.

“It was the peak of Covid and the hospital did not give us the body back. They did not take our written consent for the disposal of the body and informed us on the phone that they will dispose of the body due to the pandemic,” he said.

Muniraju’s family already completed all the Hindu last rites for him last year, after they were told the body was cremated.

“We were shocked to find out that something like this has happened to our family member. It should not happen to anyone. This is disrespect to the dead. We are heartbroken,” Mr Kumar added.

Mr Kumar said he is consulting lawyers to see whether they should file a legal case against the hospital.

In a joint statement signed by the dean and medical superintendent of the hospital, ESI Rajajinagar Hospital said the bodies should have been handed over to the local civic body for cremation on the day of their deaths, and that records showed some Covid victims’ bodies from the hospital were indeed cremated on 2 July 2020.

The hospital said that the bodies in question were finally cremated at 7pm on Monday “in the presence of their family members”.

The hospital “has constituted a committee of senior officers [on Sunday] to conduct the enquiry of the whole incident and sought a report within a week’s time to take further needful action”, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Rajajinagar’s local assembly member for Karnataka state — a BJP politician and former state minister named S Suresh Kumar — has written a letter to Karnataka’s labour minister urging him to investigate the incident.

“During the peak of Covid-19, we came across various heart-wrenching incidents but the incident that came to the light in the ESIC Hospital is most unfortunate,” the letter read. “It is the height of irresponsibility and inhuman behaviour.”

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