New Delhi: It`s 3 pm and another busy day at the Safdurjung Hospital mortuary. Over 30 ambulances carrying an equal number of bodies have arrived. Delhi Police officers, along with the mortuary staff, are busy completing the formalities and sending the bodies to the cold storage - which can take in just 25.
In the melee, bodies are sometimes kept on in the gallery for hours due to lack of space in the cold storage of the mortuary which was established 1987.
"We receive bodies of the homeless, of deaths at the hospital, in accidents and from many other cases. How is it possible to accommodate all of them together," a senior official at department of forensic medicine and toxicology asked while speaking to IANS, on condition of anonymity.
According to the hospital, in the early days, about 900 post-mortem examinations were conducted annually, while the number has now gone up to 2,200.
When this IANS correspondent visited the mortuary, some of the bodies were on the floor amid flowing water and performas and other official documents strewn all over.
Though there are guards at the dirt-filled entrance of the mortuary, which on an average receives around 40-50 bodies daily, no one stops staffers and even the ambulance drivers from entering the cold storage - which requires special protective gear to guard against infection.
While admitting that space and money was allocated to extend its capacity, the official said the construction work was never carried out.
"With our short staff, the authorities should not expect us to adhere to the health ministry norms. The ground reality is different from what is assumed," he added.
According to the health ministry, there should be adequate space for accommodating each body, a viewing area where relatives or other relevant persons can identify the body, schmes to reduce the risk of infection and maintaining the mortuary in a safe and tidy condition.
Safdurjung`s forensic department head, when approached by IANS, refused to comment on the subject.
Speaking to IANS, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Sripad Yesso Naik said: "The current government can`t be blamed for this. It is completely premature to take decision on improving the mortuaries without knowing what the faults are."
"I have just taken charge. And as far as the hospitals under the health ministry is concerned, we will take care of what needs to be done," Naik added.
But it is not just Safdurjung. The story was the same in other government run-mortuaries this IANS correspondent visited.
Delhi has 10 mortuaries run by the city government, while those at AIIMS, Safdurjung and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital are under the health ministry.
Each hospital morgue has its own problems - from ramshackle buildings and lack of cleanliness to a staff crunch.
The Sabzi Mandi mortuary, under the Delhi government`s Aruna Asaf Ali Hospital, receives over 40 bodies every day despite being able to only accommodate 17 at a time.
"The mortuary is Delhi`s oldest. With time, its condition has grown worse. Due to lack of place, dead bodies have to be kept over one another," said LC Gupta, mortuary in-charge and a senior doctor, told IANS.
Emphasising the poor condition of the cold storage and lack of initiatives to replace it, Gupta said he and his staff wait for 72 hours before handing over a body to the police for cremation.
Following a Delhi High Court notice to hospitals in September on whether they were complying with the central government`s advisory on management of mortuaries, a committee was set up.
"Doctors have been asked for a report on the requirements and once we receive this, money will be allocated to the hospitals for the improving their conditions," Health Ministry special secretary S.B. Sashank told IANS. The court`s decision came after they were informed about the bodies being kept in steel boxes due to the poor conditions in the mortuaries.
While mortuaries at hospitals like Hindu Rao face a crunch of stretchers to keep bodies, those at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) and Babu Jagjivan Ram Hospitals face problems related to proper locks, coolers and even guards. The rusted and broken locks and doors at RML tell their own story. The hospital has just six staffers to manage the entire mortuary, of which half are on contract.
"We have to work for extra 4-5 hours since the hospital authorities have not employed any more staff," a staffer, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.
The hospital, despite being under the health ministry, does not have a forensic department of its own and hence conducts post-mortems at Lady Hardinge Medical College.
However, the situation at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which mostly deals with important and referred cases, is better than other government hospitals.
With 35 post-mortem trays and arrival of up to 30 bodies depending on the situation per day, the mortuary has sufficient cold storage rooms with 22 staff members along with doctors to oversee the situation on an hourly basis.
"AIIMS can`t afford to be in the same situation like the other hospitals. When we call it India`s best medical situation, we make sure it is the best," Abisekh Yadav, assistant professor in the forensic department at AIIMS, told IANS.