Videos from Ballari raise 'mass burial' suspicions of COVID-19 patients

“Let us put it in one hole and close it. Put it slowly,” says one man heard in the video that emerged from Ballari.
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Two videos showing five men wearing personal protective gear and throwing four body bags, one after the other, into two large pits have emerged from Ballari district in Karnataka. 

“Let us put it in one hole and close it. Put it slowly,” says one man heard in the video. 

Another voice can be heard saying, “Two(bodies) have been already...” To this, the first man responds saying, “Let us put it in this and then close it.”

The five men in PPE are accompanied by a man in a mask standing by a black van (seemingly referred to in the video as 'driver sir'). Another man is seen walking away, presumably taking a video on his phone. One video shows the men dropping three black body bags into a pit.

Watch the video from Ballari

In another video from the same spot, four of the men are seen running towards another pit. They drop the body bag that they are carrying into the pit and two of them return with another.

In both the videos, an earthmover equipment is also seen in the frame.

While the district administration said that the site resembles a designated burial site for COVID-19 patients, a probe has been initiated to verify the authenticity of the video and the incident depicted in the video. Sources however say that there has been immense pressure to bury bodies immediately and the administration has faced stiff resistance over choice of place.

Till Monday evening, Ballari has reported 23 deaths due to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and more than a dozen deaths of this total was reported in the last two days alone.

Health Minister Sriramulu told the media, “By any chance, if the burial has not happened according to the Centre’s rules, I will serve them notice. I am given to understand that it has not happened that way. I will ensure it is examined and action is taken."

Reports however say that the burial was conducted with the government’s permission and the place was chosen in a hurry as local residents had objected at the first site that the administration had chosen.

Ballari Public Information Officer Ramalingappa said the site seen in the video resembles the land behind Maramma Temple in the Ballari Industrial Area. 

He said the last burial activity for COVID-19 patients by the district administration took place on Monday evening. 

“We have seen the viral video. A committee headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner PS Manjunath has been formed to probe the incident as directed by the Deputy Commissioner today. So they will investigate the matter and send a report to the DC,” Ramalingappa told TNM.

In a statement, Ballari DC Nakul expressed regret over the incident and apologised. He also said the ground team shown in the video has been disbanded and a new team will be inducted.

He said, "A few videos have been circulating in the social media since this morning, showing footage of burial procedures. An enquiry was ordered under Additional Deputy Commissioner, Ballari and it was found that the video does belong to Ballari and comprises of burial of 8 people who passed away after succumbing to COVID-19. "

He added, "The video shows that the protocols / SOP to be followed for burial (body bags, lining etc.) have been strictly followed. However, the District Administration is deeply upset and sorrowful at the manner in which the remains of the deceased were handled. The District Administration condones the disrespectful handling of the bodies while being lowered on to the ground by the field staff. The entire field team involved has been disbanded and will be replaced by a new team trained by the HoD, Forensic, VIMS. The District Administration regrets the incident and hereby unconditionally apologizes for this incident to the families of the departed in particular and people of Ballari in general."

Opposition party JD(S) has also tweeted the video and questioned the ruling party's management of the COVID-19 crisis in the state.

In the tweet it said, “BEWARE! By chance, if you or your family members die because of COVID-19, this is how the BJP Govt. in Karnataka throws away your body with many others into a single pit! This is the 'well-planned COVID management' that the Govt. talks about everyday in the media!.”

There were others too who shared the video on Twitter and outraged how the dead were denied dignity.

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