The bodies of at least 40 people have washed up on the banks of the Ganges river in northern India, officials say.
The discovery, near the border between the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, was confirmed to the BBC on Monday.
It is not clear how exactly the bodies came to be there, but local media reports suggest they may be Covid-19 victims dumped in the river.
Some media reports say as many as 100 bodies have been found, and that their condition suggests they may have been in the river for several days.
“There is a possibility that these bodies have come out of Uttar Pradesh,” a local official told the BBC after questioning local residents.
Officials said the bodies appeared to be bloated and partially burnt, and that they may have ended up in the river as part of the practice of cremating victims of coronavirus along the river Ganges, India’s NDTV news channel reported.
District officials have collected the bodies for autopsies.
The area where the bodies washed up borders India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where a lockdown was extended over the weekend until May 17.
In a press conference, district official Aman Sarin told local reporters an investigation is underway to identify and determine cause of death for the bodies. He said the remains would be buried or cremated.
Some local residents and journalists told BBC Hindi a shortage of wood for cremations and the rising costs associated with funerals were leaving some families with no option but to put the bodies of loved ones who had died from coronavirus directly into the river.
Local resident Chandra Mohan said: “Private hospitals are looting people. Common people are not left with money to pay a priest and spend more on cremation at the river bank. The river has become their last recourse so people are immersing corpses in the river.”
As coronavirus infections continue to rise, at least 24 of India’s 36 states and union territories are under full lockdowns, according to CNN data compiled from state governments.