The sacred river deserved better not the least because it flows through the cow belt. This is quite the most charitable construct that can be placed upon the dumping of bodies of Covid victims in the Ganga as it meanders through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and also, of course, Malda in West Bengal. This has lent a heartrending dimension to the resurgence of the pandemic, much too horrendous even at the mildest estimation.

Fearing the spread of infection, the bodies are not even touched by the next of kin, let alone taken for cremation. With remarkable promptitude, therefore, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has wriiten to state governments across the country, underlining the grim reality. Specifically, such inhuman dumping of the dead is a “grave violation of Covid protocol and it necessitates urgent action”.

Of such action, there has been virtually nil; even the state governments in Patna and Lucknow have been seemingly impervious to the canker that permeates the supposedly sacred water. One must give it to the West Bengal government that has directed Malda’s district administration to step up surveillance for bodies in the Ganga and cremate then in a manner that is concordant with Covid protocol.

The nub of the matter must be that every rule in the book as well as municipal regulations have been violated in at least two states. While the willful pollution of the river persists unchecked, it has scarcely been realised that such dumping of the dead in the Ganga not merely causes pollution, but is frightfully unhygienic, one that “increases the risk of spreading infections in the communities inhabiting in and around the regions of the river banks”, according to the NMCG.

It would be no exaggeration to suggest that few locations are as polluted as the rivers of the country. Such pollution is as astonishing as it is incredible, most particularly in Varanasi ~ incidentally Narendra Modi’s constituency ~ where the Ganga has a profound connotation with religious rituals riveted to the river and its ghats.

Trashed to irrelevance in the event is the hi-falutin Ganga Action Plan that has achieved little ever since it was conceived. And of course the irony of sins that were purged at the Kumbh not so long ago in the same waters having acted as a superspreader will not be lost on those who now think little of dumping bodies in the river.

The tragedy deepens as over the past two days, unidentified and unclaimed bodies have been seen floating in the Ganga in Bihar’s Buxar district and in neighbouring Ballia and Ghazipur districts of UP. The problem is fairly extensive with the Chief Secretaries of Bengal, Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand being put on alert, with a directive on “effective control on future incidences of people dumping bodies in the Ganga and its tributaries”.

There ought to have been a crackdown at the threshold. There wasn’t. And the hideous disposal of the dead is spreading. Jean Renoir, the French filmmaker from whose film we borrow the title of this comment, would have been appalled.