Bhopal:A major discrepancy has been revealed in the number of deaths due to COVID-19 reported by the Madhya Pradesh government and the data released by official crematoriums and graveyards. While the BJP-led government has claimed that 91 people have lost their lives in Bhopal so far, the data, however, shows the virus has taken 180 lives till June 24.
According to officials of the crematoriums and those of the graveyards in the city, the last rites of 94 people who lost their lives to COVID-19 were performed at Bhadbhada Ghat (80) and Subhash Nagar (14) crematoriums. Likewise, 86 people, consumed by the pandemic have been buried at the graveyard in Jahangirabad, they said.
The caretakers of crematoriums and graveyard claimed that the Bhopal Municipal Corporation has asked the authorities of the Bhadbhada, Subhash Nagar and Gondiyai crematorium grounds and those of Jahangirabad graveyard to dispose of the bodies of those who died or suspected to have died of COVID-19 and keep the records.
The death data of all four places reveals that 180 people have fallen prey to the pandemic so far, which is almost double from the official figure released by the government till June 24.
They further claimed the BMC had promised the crematoriums and graveyard authorities to pay Rs 5,000 for disposing of each body. Yet, they are waiting for the payment for performing the last rites of 172 bodies.
Meanwhile, the lists of deaths accessed by NewsClick showed that the bodies of at least 150 people who allegedly died due to COVID-19 were disposed of in the graveyard and crematoriums in Bhopal.
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The principal secretary of the state Health Department, Faiz Ahmad Kidwai, said that the crematoriums and graveyard may have counted the bodies of COVID-19 suspects also under this head.This may have lead to the discrepancies in death figures.
However, the caretakers of graveyard and crematoriums clarified that they have only disposed those bodies brought by the hospital ambulances or BMC vehicles.
On being questioned about the caretakers’ claims, Kidwai replied, "There must be some misunderstanding in maintaining the data. Will look into this matter."
As per the guidelines, the crematoriums and graveyard authorities issue a certificate after disposing of the bodies to either the BMC worker who brings the body or the kin of the deceased. The certificate clearly mentions the reason of death in one of its columns with other details.
“The ambulances of COVID-19 dedicated hospitals or the BMC vehicles bring the bodies of those who die of the virus either in Hamidia Government Hospital, Chirayu or AIIMS to us. The bodies come in air-tight double plastic packing from the hospital. By taking all required measures including wearing PPE kits, we cremate the body without any delay. Later on, we issue a certificate of the same immediately which says the person died of COVID-19,” said Lad Singh Sen, Manager of Bhadbhada Crematorium ground.
Lad Singh further claimed that the former BMC commissioner Vijay Dutta had promised to pay Rs 5,000 for performing the last rites of each COVID-19 death, however, despite cremating 80 bodies, payment has been received only for eight. “I have sent a list of 32 people who died of COVID-19 and were cremated at Bhadbhada last month for the payment. Now, I’m preparing another list of 40 people for the same.”
The caretaker of Jahangirabad graveyard, Rehan Golden, also made similar claims. “Till June 24, we have buried 86 bodies here by taking all precautions and issued certificates as well,” Golden said. “The government hospital’s ambulances or the BMC vehicles bring the bodies packed in plastic. We immediately perform namaz and bury the body in no time. The graveyard management are bearing all the expenses till date,” he said.
Reiterating the claim made by Lad Singh, Golden said, “The BMC officials have promised to pay Rs 5,000 for each COVID-19 body. A fortnight ago, I sent a list of 38 people which have details of those who died due to the virus and are buried here. In addition to that, I had sent a similar list of 38 people nearly a month ago. However, I have received nothing till date.”
The caretaker of Subhash Nagar crematorium, Somraj Sukhwani told NewsClick, “Till now, 14 bodies have been cremated here which were sent either by the BMC or hospital authority, but no payment has been made despite repeated calls to the BMC officials.”
On being pointed out that the government has claimed that only 91 people have died of COVID-19 in Bhopal till June 24, all of them refuted it saying that the figure is much higher.
“I have alone buried 86 bodies here, how can it be possible?,” Rehan questioned. While the manager of Bhadbhada crematorium Lad Singh which has cremated 80 bodies said, “These are just those figures which have been accounted for, what about the others who died without testing?”
A report in the Hindustan Times had earlier claimed that the state Health Department has not been conducting any tests on those who have died with COVID-19 symptoms.
The report further said that the cases of murder, road accidents and suicides have drastically dropped in the lockdown which should reflect in the death figures, but, the current year’s cremation figures are slightly higher from the previous year.
Manoj Shrivastava, Deputy Commissioner of BMC, claimed that the BMC is only acting as a nodal agency in this. The BMC officials collect the documents from the respective graveyard and crematoriums and cross check it with the concerned hospitals. Later on, the officials send it to the district collector’s office for approval. Upon approval, the corporation sends the list to the Red Cross society, which is making the payment for disposing of the bodies of those who died of COVID-19.
Commenting over the issue, SR Azad of Jan Swasth Abhiyan said, "If crematoriums and graveyard data is to be believed than the government must be hiding the COVID-19 death data. This is a huge mismatch in death figures."
"If this is the condition in the state’s capital city, we can only imagine the condition of others cities," he added.
Meanwhile, a senior journalist Rakesh Dixit claimed that there were reports of data manipulation in COVID-19 deaths in Indore as well as in Delhi. "Just like Delhi Government's COVID-19 death data mismatching with New Delhi Municipal Corporation's data, the records of Bhopal crematoriums and a graveyard data are mismatching with Madhya Pradesh Government's figure. The government should conduct a probe and re-verify the data," he said.
Despite several attempts by NewsClick to contact the Chief Medical Health Officer of Bhopal Prabhakar Tiwari and state Health Commissioner Sanjay Goel, the calls remained unanswered.