Bodies of 22 COVID-19 patients who had succumbed in the Beed district of Maharashtra were found stuffed in a single ambulance, in some cases one upon the other, and transported to a crematorium.
The incident has sparked public outrage, forcing the Beed district administration to rush a team to Ambajogai to look into the matter.
The incident took place on April 25 when the bodies, kept in the mortuary of the Swami Ramanand Teerth Rural Government Medical College at Ambajogai in Beed, were being transported for the last rites.
"This happened because the hospital administration does not have enough ambulances," the medical college's Dean, Dr Shivaji Sukre, told PTI on April 27.
He said they had five ambulances during the first wave of COVID-19 last year. Out of them, three were later withdrawn and the hospital was now managing the transportation of COVID-19 patients in two ambulances.
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"Sometimes, it takes time to trace the relatives of a dead patient. The bodies from the COVID-19 centre at Lokhandi Sawargaon village are also sent to our facility as they don't have a cold storage," the official said.
He said they wrote to the district administration on March 17 to provide them with three more ambulances.
"To avoid the chaos, we have also written to the Ambajogai Municipal Council to conduct the last rites of the victims between 8 am and 10 pm and the bodies will be sent to the crematoriums from the hospital ward itself," he said.
Meanwhile, BJP MLC Suresh Dhas alleged that the hospital and the local civic body were passing the blame on each other.
Talking to a TV channel, the legislator from Ashti in Beed said, "There is no control left and the government is not acting swiftly. The state administration has permitted ambulances to be provided from the MLA fund, but the technical sanction for it is given from Mumbai."
Ambajogai Municipal Council's chief officer Ashok Sabale said it was the responsibility of the medical college to transport the bodies to the crematorium on Mandwa road (designated for the last rites of COVID-19 victims).
"Our teams are there at the crematorium for conducting the last rites. A meeting was held on Monday over the issue during which the medical college dean said they do not have enough ambulances. If it is the case, didn't they have any review mechanism? Why didn't they act on it?" Sabale asked.
Municipal council president Rajkishor alias Papa Modi also expressed concern over the incident and said the same day, eight more bodies were transported in another ambulance for cremation.
"We are going to provide one ambulance to the medical college and another two will be made available from the district administration," he said.
The official said the local medical infrastructure is "stressed" as critical patients from nearby districts are also brought to Ambajogai.
With inputs from PTI