Editor’s Note: Delhi has recorded over 45,000 COVID 19 cases and more than 1800 deaths since the outbreak. But these are just the numbers it has made available to the public. Hospital records, cremation data and anecdotal evidence suggest that casualties are far higher. This multi-part series examines discrepancies in the official statistics released by the Delhi government thus far.
With COVID-19 cases skyrocketting and the toll soaring across India, healthcare staff and residents of Delhi strongly feel that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government has barely managed to keep things together by manipulating numbers, as well as, information. A week ago, the toll figures released by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi contradicted with another list released by the Delhi government.
While the Aam Aadmi Party’s health bulletin stated that 1,085 patients died of COVID in Delhi, the civic bodies said that a total of 2,098 have died so far contracting the virus. The Delhi civic bodies based their figures on the COVID-19 cremations while the state government cited death audit committee’s report.
The National Capital’s COVID-19 count crossed 47,000 mark to reach 47,102 with a record 2,414 cases reported on Wednesday. The previous highest spike in daily fresh cases — 2,224 — was recorded on Sunday.
Amid war of words between political parties, allegations were made against the Delhi government of fudging toll numbers, which the Kejriwal government has denied. They also termed the controversy as one conspired by Opposition parties. The government said a death audit committee comprising of senior doctors has been formed which is working ‘impartially’.
A file imae of people waiting by the burning pyre of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in New Delhi. AP
The Kejriwal government has been under fire for alleged “under-reporting”of COVID-19 deaths. North Delhi Mayor Avtar Singh, East Delhi Mayor Anju Kamalkant, and chairpersons of the standing committee of NDMC, SDMC and EDMC revealed that the number of deaths from COVID19 in Delhi stands at 2,098 — SDMC (1080), NDMC (976), EDMC (42).
Speaking to Firstpost, Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said, “If they (MCD) have details, they can share with us. We have a death audit committee. I urge them to send a full list of people who died of COVID-19 along with their addresses and reports.” He also added that there could be delay in receiving the death figures from some hospitals. Jain was tested COVID positive on Wednesday along with AAP leaders Atishi and Akshay Marathe.
But the ground reality tells a different story.
A video of a cremation ground in Delhi went viral on social media recently. The video showed cremation ground being occupied to it’s full capacity. A municipal corporation employee, requesting anonymity, said that bodies had to be diverted from the Punjabi Bagh cremation ground which is reserved for COVID funerals.
— Aslam Khan (@aslamkhanbombay) June 11, 2020
The facility has the capacity of cremating 65 bodies in a day but received at least 73 bodies last Thursday. The facility got 65 bodies on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well. A local resident, who was there to attend a funeral, said, “My relatives have been asked to take the body to some other crematorium as there is no space today.”
Head of the standing committee of North MCD, Jai Prakash told Firstpost, “Apart from the 2,098 deaths due to coronavirus, last rites were conducted as per COVID19 protocol in more than 200 suspected cases, including 123 in South MCD, 77 in North and 40 in the East.”
This is not the first time that the Delhi civic bodies have confronted the state government over contradicting tolls during the pandemic.
The discrepancy in the toll figures first surfaced on 10 May after local media reported the gap between government’s figures and the number of funerals conducted with COVID-19 protocol. The Kejriwal government stopped sharing data regarding casualties from hospitals from 13 May onwards and there was a slight increase in the compiled number of deaths per day. On 13 May, government confirmed 20 deaths but all did not happen in a day. Some of them were old casualties acknowledged by the state panel on that day, reports said.
A government official, requesting anonymity, said, “Death numbers are being regularised as confirmed by the death audit committee. But when you see the condition of cremation, burial ground, it seems something is wrong with official figures.”
The Supreme Court also pointed out that the Delhi government was not following the 15 March directive of central agencies related to cremating bodies. “Relatives are not being informed about the death, in some cases families have not been able to attend funerals,” the Supreme Court bench ruled on Friday.
Dr Ambarish Satwik a vascular and endovascular surgeon at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said, “Turing a blind to the situation and hiding statistics won’t do any good during pandemic times. Everyone sees the ground reality. I don’t think hiding the real numbers of patients as well as deaths is of any use.”
Delhi has 13 cremation grounds, four graveyards and one cemetery under civic bodies’ jurisdiction. Six of these cremation grounds, four burial grounds and a cemetery are authorised to conduct the funeral according to COVID-19 protocol.
Updated Date: Jun 19, 2020 09:00:13 IST
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