Madhya Pradesh falsely reporting Covid deaths?  

There is mismatch in the figures provided by the government and the ones disclosed by crematorium staff members

MP covid deaths

In the fierce second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, India has reported over 3.52 lakh new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s total infection load to a whopping 1.73 crores. The total number of deaths also stands close to 1.95 lakhs but the actual number could be alarmingly more.

In Madhya Pradesh, the total number of Coronavirus infections stands at 4,99,304 cases with over 13,600 new cases. There has not been too much media spotlight on this state either. The total number of reported deaths stand at 5,133 with 92 new incidents reported in the last 24 hours as of April 26. A report in Dainik Bhaskar dated April 26 alleges that Bhopal has seen around a staggering 1,000 deaths over the past 13 days but the government’s data shows a mere 41!

According to the HT, around 84 bodies were cremated or buried in Bhopal alone on April 13 but the health department recorded only 5 deaths. Further, the state reported some 6,000 cases and 32 deaths a day on average over the week that ended on April 14. To give a further break up, 53 Covid deaths were reported throughout the state on April 15, 51 on April 14, 40 on April 13 and 37 on April 12, according to the Newslaundry. According to the HT, April 20 recorded 77 covid deaths in all of Madhya Pradesh and 75 deaths on April 22.

However, all these numbers appear to be inaccurate and downplayed against the actual numbers of lives lost in past weeks. Arun Choudhary (60), the head of the management committee of the Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat (crematorium) in Bhopal told SabrangIndia that on April 20 alone, his crematorium recorded 99 Covid deaths, 98 deaths on April 21, and 88 on April 22. When informed that his record is different from what the BJP-led Shivraj Chauhan government has been reporting, he said, “I have nothing to do with what the government says. It is not my job. But the crime branch in the city and CID ask for my records daily.”

In order to understand how the crematoria in the state differentiates between Covid and normal deaths, Mr. Choudhary told SabrangIndia, “The Covid dead bodies come only in government cars and we have made arrangements for a different Covid zone within our premises that can accommodate 25-30 bodies at a time.” According to him, the Covid bodies are wrapped in three layers and are brought in through a separate path assigned only for coronavirus infected deceased patients. He added that because of the sudden load, the staff in the Bhadbhada crematorium has been doubled from 30 to 60 members.

Lad Singh, a worker at the same cremation ground, could not confirm if the numbers provided by Choudhary were exact, but believed that cremations had increased manifold. He told Newslaundry, “My phone starts ringing at 6 in the morning. Someone is coming to collect the remains, someone needs the certificate. Some say they are coming from Chhindwara, from Sagar or Betul, they claim they are coming from 500 km away so they can’t return for the death certificate. So, I have to make 50, even 100 certificates every day and keep track of them. I end up working till 11 pm, midnight. My life is in God’s hands now.”

Pradeep Kanojia, a worker at the Subhash Nagar crematorium in Bhopal told Deccan Herald, “I am cremating Covid-19 infected bodies for the past one year but I have never seen such a pile up of bodies as I have seen in the past week. People have to wait for hours for cremation. The relatives are waiting with an ambulance outside the ground of the cremation.”

Due to the sudden spike in the death rate in Madhya Pradesh, the crematorium staff is also facing shortage of timber to burn the bodies. Alok Choudhary told SabrangIndia that the reason behind the shortage is due to the surge in deaths. He said earlier the crematoria were seeing 40-45 deaths a day, but now the numbers have doubled, touching close to 100 in the capital city alone.

“Everyone around is helping in these trying times. Alok Sharma ji has helped Bhadbhada for the arrangement of wood, and some private vendors have also offered their help and things seem to be under control now”, said Alok Choudhary.

In the first two weeks of April, at least 824 people have been cremated or buried in Bhopal alone following Covid-19 protocol, according to The HT. But the government has dismissed these claims of under reporting and said that these 824 people were “suspected” to have Covid-19 and hence were not added to the official tally.

Speaking to media persons, the medical education minister, Vishwas Sarang has asserted the same narrative of not hiding any data. Prabhuram Chaudhary has denied all such allegations where DC quoted him saying, “We came to know about the cremation of bodies in large numbers and we are looking into the matter. But there is no under-reporting of cases and deaths.”

Contrary to the government’s position, many residents of Bhopal believe that the manner in which bodies are piling up in the various crematoria is worse than the situation in 1984 after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. Various cases and deaths from remote areas of Madhya Pradesh even go unreported.  

The issue of distorted data doesn’t hold true only for MP. Social media platforms and the media are full of ground reports from various cremation grounds of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and many other cities reeling under the pressure of enormous Covid-19 deaths that are devastating India.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a data scientist and a Professor of Epidemiology (University of Michigan) has been tracking the crisis in India and believes that the under reporting in India is massive. Shifting focus on the impact of under counting the deaths, she stated on Twitter, “Data suppression harms any planning in terms of resource allocation. Knowing the actual reality is always better for the public, for policymakers and scientists. I am praying for a miraculous recovery for India as we all prepare for a covid-adaptive future.”



Covid Data deaths, a reality since 2020

This absence or concealment of data has haunted the official response to the Covid-19 crisis. In September 2020, SabrangIndia had reported how the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare does not maintain data on Covid deaths of medical personnel, said Minister of State Ashwini Kumar Choubey a day after the Centre’s declaration that it does not have a record of migrant labourer deaths. On September 16, Rajya Sabha Members of Parliament (MP) Ravi Prakash Verma and Binoy Viswam asked Choubey for the number of doctors, nurses, ASHA workers and other health care staff who had either been affected by or died due to coronavirus.

The explanation provided by the GOI was that the Minister of State had given the disconcerting reply of, “Health is a State subject. Such data is not maintained at Central level by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. However, the database of those seeking relief under the “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Insurance Package” is maintained at national level.” At the time this was the second time that the Centre failed to account for Covid-19-caused deaths in India. The Centre’s insurance scheme only recorded 155 deaths of medical personnel from all over India.

Thus, it recognises deaths of only those people whose families sought relief under the government insurance scheme. Accordingly, the data showed that as many as 21 medical personnel had died in Maharashtra with a majority of 12 deaths classified in “others” category. Maharashtra’s official death count was closely followed by West Bengal and Gujarat with 14 deaths each. Uttar Pradesh recorded eight doctor deaths – highest number in the given data – while Telangana recorded as many as three ASHA worker deaths. Gujarat had the highest nurse, midwife, and health worker deaths at six persons.


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