As India's COVID-19 disaster continues to unfold, more and more shreds of evidence from international institutions and inputs from morgues, crematoriums and hospitals, regional dailies and independent journalists expose serious under-reporting and undercounting of deaths by authorities.
A new analysis from the University of Washington Institute For Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) shows that India may have undercounted its deaths by at least 4.3 lakh which is almost three times as high as reported.
Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and one of the most prominent scientific voices during the pandemic, explains this undercounting by suggesting that the current average of daily covid deaths in India as per official data i.e 4,000 COVID-19 deaths per day, will only comprise an increase of 15% over natural deaths happening in the country. But going by the kind of queues that are being witnessed at the crematorium and burial grounds Sahid estimates an undercounting of deaths by 5-10 times.
On May 14, a detailed report published by Gujarati daily Divya Bhaskar claimed that between March 1 and May 10, the state has seen almost 61,000 excess deaths compared to the same period last year and has issued 1,23,871 death certificates. but the Gujarat govt has registered only 4,218 covid fatalities during this 71 day period, which is 10 times less than the actual count.
The reports also highlight district wise numbers of death certificates in the same period, which were much higher than the official covid-19 toll.
Other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Haryana and Chhattisgarh too have allegedly underreported COVID-19 deaths, as per several media reports.
As early as April 15, reports of undercounting of COVID-19 deaths had started coming in from Madhya Pradesh.
On April 16, the Bhopal edition of Dainik Bhasker called out the mismatch between government data and cremations in its which said, funerals of 112 Covid-infected people took place in Bhopal on April 15, while official figures day only 4 deaths were recorded in the city.
"Whose bodies are then burning in the crematoriums?"
In mid-April, Hindustan Times reported that the Hindon cremation ground at Ghaziabad, UP, was struggling to cope with the number of bodies even as the district administration had logged just two COVID-19 deaths that month.
A report published by Article 14 on April 30 claimed that evidence collected by their reporters from six cities in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar –namely, Patna, Kanpur, Jamnagar, Morbi, Rajkot and Porbandar – revealed that funerals conducted under COVID-19 protocols ranged from three to even 30 times higher than the official death tolls.
The report emphasized that these cities from BJP-administered states were repeatedly found underreporting.
As per the report, while the government records in Kanpur show nine and 13 COVID-19 deaths on April 23 and 24, the crematoria reported seven times that number.
In Gujarat's Morbi district the trustee of a crematorium said the district was seeing 30-40 deaths a day since early April, while the government claims only 75 deaths have occurred due to Covid-19 since last year.
The government records from Porbandar show only two deaths in April and six since last year, even as the records at one crematorium had recorded 30 deaths per day.
A report published on May 1 by Newslaundry highlighted that official data from Uttar Pradesh's Meerut district had reported seven times fewer COVID-10 deaths than that revealed by records from crematoria.
On May 14, Dainik Bhaskar reported that over 2,000 dead bodies were found to be abandoned or hastily buried along the banks of river Ganga in many districts in Uttar Pradesh (UP) – Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Unnao, Ghazipur, Kannauj and Ballia regions.
All these prove that the protocol on recording deaths during the pandemic from the Indian Council of Medical Research is almost ignored in practice. Most states that we know of are also not recording suspected Covid deaths, which means the majority of people are dying in hospital corridors or at home.