Faulty freezers: Hearse service faces melt down in Ramanathapuram of Tamil Nadu

90% of freezer boxes inefficient; ice bars used to keep bodies intact; health official blames it on private contractor

Published: 03rd January 2018 02:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2018 07:27 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

RAMANATHAPURAM: AS they say, death is the ultimate truth of life. And what if the kith and kin are devoid of the privilege of seeing the faces of their loved ones in perfect condition for one last time?
Yes, you heard it right.

Let it be accident victims or aged pilgrims from far north, it’s time to know and accept the fact that the family of the dead, who avail government services to transport the corpse, often get to see their loved one in a decomposed condition, why so? Only because 90 per cent of the freezer boxes in Tamil Nadu that are usually used to transport the corpse are faulty.

Free Hearse Service was introduced by the Tamil Nadu government in 2011 and Indian Red Cross Society has tied-up with the government to implement the service. The service usually helps transport the corpse to the place of disposal or home of the deceased free of cost under the guidance of Tamil Nadu Health System Project.

In 2016-17, as many as 97,104 dead bodies have been transported through the service and the State government had sanctioned Rs 12.87 crore for the facility.

How does it work though? The friends and family members of the deceased or Chief Medical Officer from a government hospital can contact the Central Response Centre that functions round the clock to avail the free hearse service.

The service has as many as 161 vehicles to cover Government medical colleges, taluk and non-taluk hospitals in all 32 districts. During accidents or disasters, the vehicle will carry corpse to a government hospital for autopsy and then to the place of disposal.

The vehicle is equipped with a freezer box so that the body does not decompose by the time it reaches its place of disposal. Now, sources said, since most of these boxes were faulty, the bodies were carried in a normal box filled with ice bars manually. And what does this result to? the dead bodies reach their families in a decomposed condition.

Speaking to Express, an official of the State Health Department, on condition of anonymity,  blamed the top officials in his department and pointed fingers at a private contractor, who bagged the contract of providing freezer-box-maintenance service.

“If we report a fault in freezer boxes, all that the contractor does is swap the faulty box with another box in another vehicle. He does not carry out repair works on the faulty machine. Also, they do not have enough technicians to repair the boxes. We did file complaints earlier to top officials in the department too,” he said.

Stating that over 90 per cent of the vehicles do not have freezer boxes that actually work, he said, “We simply put the corpse in a box and place ice bars on it. The body begins to decompose once the ice melts. Due to this, families of the deceased go in for a private vehicle and are also ready to pay huge amounts.”
Meanwhile, a doctor said, “A number of aged devotees from North India visit Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameswaram.

There have been cases where they have lost their lives due to ill-health or accidents. Even though the Free Hearse Service can be availed by these families till Bangalore airport, they prefer a private vehicle to transport the dead body and spend nearly Rs 50,000 for it. This is only because the government vehicles don’t have freezer boxes.” This apart, there are also other issues, including workers demanding bribe from the family members of deceased.

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