Harrowing experience of Chennai resident at burial ground spurs Corporation Commissioner into remedial action 

A woman who was arranging for the cremation of a relative who died of COVID-19 complications was intimidated by crematorium staff for excess money and was given no paperwork for the death and cremation; Commissioner has asked for termination of staff

A resident of Vepery faced a harrowing time on Tuesday night, after her aunt died of COVID-19 complications. A moving post of her experience was forwarded to the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi, who has asked for action to be taken against persons at the Otteri Crematorium as well as GCC personnel, and for regulation of staff at burial grounds in the city.

The woman resident of Vepery was forced to arrange for the cremation of the deceased late on Tuesday night and faced several issues through the process including not getting any record of the death or cremation, and getting verbally abused by persons at the crematorium for not paying what they demanded.

The deceased, who was 98 years old, was under palliative care at home in Vepery. The GCC was informed of this and had taken a letter from the family citing that they did not want hospital assistance. The nonagenarian died a little after 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening and GCC officials subsequently landed up at the house.

“We had assumed that since she died a little after 7 p.m, it would not be possible to do the cremation the same day and had arranged for a freezer coffin so that the cremation could take place the following day. However the GCC personnel told us that since she had tested [COVID-19] positive, she could not be kept overnight in a freezer coffin and that the cremation would have to happen immediately, even though it was night time,” the resident said.

While they were ready to move to the burial ground, the resident said that she had enquired about the doctor’s certification of death. “The GCC personnel told us that the GCC doctor would not be able to come at this time in the night and would certify the next morning. I found that very strange – a dead person being cremated with no record whatsoever,” she said, and stated that she refused for her aunt to be taken away without any paperwork and proceeded to contact the Health Inspector of the Zone who explained the procedures to her.

Following an assurance from the health inspector, the body was taken to the Otteri Crematorium and there, the resident said, she was intimidated by people there to pay up ₹8,000 to get the body cremated. “ I offered ₹ 3000 against the ₹ 8000 they demanded and this set off a storm of abuse being hurled at me. Three persons who were there jumped onto a bike and rode away,” she said.

“This was concerning since the persons there had just taken the body inside, and had emerged soon after making me wonder if they had actually begun the cremation. They finally then agreed to take the ₹3,000 on the condition that when I come back the next day to collect the ashes, I will pay the balance. A GCC official was there, and had seen everything happen,” she said.

With no family in the city as well as the lockdown in place, the resident only had another person, her driver, who had accompanied her to the burial ground.

When she approached the Officer in Charge of the Burial Ground about the Form 2 which has to be completed and submitted, the official there said that it would only be given the next day. “I was left with no record of death or the cremation. While trying to ensure a dignified funeral, I was faced with this nerve-wracking experience,” the resident said.

On coming to know about the issues faced by her, GCC Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi reached out and reassured her that they would look into it. “ I am most reassured by the fact that the GCC has now reached out and will be looking into these concerns. There further needs to be a police check post or booth at the Otteri burial ground as well for additional safety,” the resident said.

Assuring that action would be taken, Mr Bedi told The Hindu that they would look into the issue and suspend the persons involved. “If they aren’t able to find that persons involved, the burial ground staff will have to be shifted. I have given instructions for the staff present at burials grounds to have a dress code and wear an ID card as well. A press release with whom to reach out in case of an emergency will also be issued soon,” he said. Officials have also decided to hand over the ashes personally to the resident to ensure she does not have to go back to the burial ground again.

Further he added that an inquiry was held at the Otteri burial ground that is maintained by the NGO ICWO, along with the Vigilance Officer and the Zonal team. It was ascertained that the caretaker and four assistants were present yesterday night. The manager of ICWO has been instructed to immediately terminate the 5 people and produce a copy of the letter in an hour. Alternative arrangements have been made to replace the staff members so that cremation doesn’t get affected.

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