Surat continues to be the hotspot reporting the highest number of cases in Gujarat since the last week of June. The city saw a surge in COVID-19 positive cases as the district took over Ahmedabad on June 29 in not only the highest number of cases per day, but also in fatalities. While grappling with the situation, the data of COVID-19 deaths in the district released by the local civic body has also come under question.
Aslam Cyclewala, a councillor from Surat has written to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani claiming that the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) is “conspiring to hide the data of COVID deaths under political pressure”.
“On June 1, during the first phase of ‘unlock’ in the district, the total number of COVID-19 positive cases were 1,642 and 70 deaths. By July 1, during the second phase of ‘unlock’ in the district, the total number of cases went up to 4,893 and deaths surged to 182. By July 4, there were 5,346 cases and 214 deaths. So, within 34 days, 3,604 new cases and 144 deaths were reported. But nobody from SMC is pondering how the situation spiralled so fast,” said Aslam Cyclewala.
“Administration of the SMC has not been transparent so far. It seems there is political pressure to not publish accurate data related to COVID-19. In fact, until a few days ago, SMC data showed three or four deaths per day. After media outrage, the number of deaths per day has suddenly shot up to nine or 10 per day. Also, most of the deaths are being declared at night so that next of kin cannot raise any questions and the media doesn’t get the information,” adds Cyclewala.
Notably, the data on COVID-19 deaths in Surat released by the state Health Department and SMC don’t match.
In accordance with data published by SMC, the number of deaths as of July 24, is 439 while data published by the state Health Department shows 335 COVID-19 deaths in Surat till the same date. The total number of cases in Surat as of July 24 is 10,762 as per the Department data while it is 9,548 as per SMC data.
“Since March 22, 625 bodies have been cremated or buried as per COVID-19 protocol in Ashwini Kumar crematorium, Ramnath Dhelka crematorium, Mora Bhagal crematorium and other small crematoriums in Surat,” claimed Cyclewala.
“We have been burying or cremating at least 60 bodies per day as per the COVID-19 protocol,” said officials of Ekta Trust, an NGO that has been helping SMC with cremating the bodies irrespective of religion.
“Before the lockdown, we used to cremate 30 to 40 bodies, but now, the number of bodies we receive has increased. It is usually 70 to 80 bodies per day now,” claimed Somabhai Ghatak, manager of Ashwini Kumar Crematorium.
However, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has refuted all the claims of the actual number of COVID deaths being higher than the official data in Surat.
“I only want to say that the government data is genuine,” stated CM Rupani adding that the fresh cases in the district are due to the workers of the diamond and textile industry.
On July 24, Gujarat recorded a total number of 53,631 cases [with nearly 44 cases per hour] out of which Surat accounted for 10,762 cases as per the Health Department data. The district recorded 309 cases in a day on July 24, its highest so far.
About 50% of the total cases in Surat have been recorded from Rander region of the city closely followed by Katargam, Limbayat and Ghorat Adajan areas.
Rander, a Muslim-dominated area was contained by SMC in early April. With about 1.25 square kilometre area that has about 4,000 houses, it has been the largest containment area of Gujarat. The area is also a hub for street food, which is a source of livelihood for at least hundreds of local food vendors.
Katargam area holds the diamond polishing units in the city along with multiple urban ghettos of the diamond polishing workers, a majority of whom have migrated from Saurashtra region of the state.
As Gujarat crosses the 50,000 mark and continues to record more than 1000 cases for the fourth day in a row, Surat now accounts for more than 30% of the total number of cases in the state. The high density of the population of Surat might be a reason for the quick spread of the disease in the city. Surat has a high population density of 136.8 persons per hectare, which is higher than Ahmedabad that has 119.5 persons per hectare.