The Centre on Tuesday asked states along the Ganga to ensure strict vigilance and check future incidences of people dumping bodies in the river and its tributaries.
In a letter to District Ganga Committees which are chaired by district magistrates or collectors, the National Mission for Clean Ganga -- the apex body that monitors rejuvenation of the river and its tributaries- also asked the authorities to dispose unidentified bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims in accordance with safety protocols.
"Ensure strict vigilance along length of the river within territorial jurisdiction of the district to prevent and check such future incidences of people dumping dead bodies in Ganga and its tributaries and of any other activity hazardous for river Ganga and health and hygiene of the area," NMCG Director General Rajiv Ranjan Mishra said in the letter to the chairpersons of the committees.
It has also asked them to submit an Action Taken Report (ATR) to the NMCG in the next 14 days, the letter said.
Mishra said dumping of bodies/partially dumped bodies/decomposed corpse not only causes pollution in the river, but is also unhygienic and increases the risk of spreading infections in communities inhabiting the banks of rivers.
The letter was written to the states after bodies were spotted floating in Ganga and Yamuna in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh over the past two days at a time when the country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bihar government said altogether 71 bodies have been fished out from the Ganges in Buxar district, where these were found floating in the river, triggering suspicion that the abandoned corpses could be those of COVID-19 patients.
State Water Resources Minister Sanjay Kumar came out with a series of tweets, asserting that the bodies had flown downstream from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
"The Bihar government is seized of the matter of unfortunate case of floating mortal remains in river Ganga. The bodies have floated into Bihar from UP," said Jha, adding, doctors have confirmed upon post-mortem that the deaths had taken place "four-five days" ago.
He said Chief minister Nitish Kumar was pained at both the tragedy as well as the "harm" to river Ganga.
On Monday, residents in Hamirpur district spotted five bodies floating in the Yamuna, creating a scare that these were of COVID patients.The bodies were later fished out and cremated.