As Uttar Pradesh (UP) reached the 10-crore vaccination mark on September 25, chief minister Yogi Adityanath and the administration were in a self-congratulatory mode with the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit’s Twitter handle posting: “UP created a record by becoming number one in the country to give 10 crore vaccine doses.”
A closer look at the data, however, shows that UP lags other states in the number of people who have been fully vaccinated. As of October 5, UP had fully vaccinated only 15% of its adult population compared to Bihar’s 17% and Kerala’s 43%.
Boasting of numbers that don’t present the right picture is nothing new for the UP government, which has often resorted to such tactics during the pandemic—be it the number of people tested for COVID-19, the availability of basic medical services, like oxygen, or even the fatality figures.
The administration has been consistently trying to project UP as an exemplary state performing very well under the command of Adityanath. However, the ground reality is contrary to the claims.
For instance, in April, the Twitter handles of UP government and Adityanath falsely quoted some study done by the Johns Hopkins University as concluding, “Uttar Pradesh among toppers in Covid Management”. Later, The Quint reported that the university officials denied that the study had undertaken any comparative analysis among states or countries so as to rank UP number one. In fact, the study, co-authored by the UP government officials, only looked at the steps undertaken in the state in response to COVID-19 to draw lessons from it and had recommendations for a better health emergency response.
LOW TESTING NUMBERS
The recently released report card by the state government on completing four-and-a-half years cites numerous achievements with one of them claiming that UP has conducted the maximum number of COVID-19 tests. Considering that UP is the most populous state, the claim might be right but measuring it by scaling with the population presents a contrasting picture.
UP is one of the states with very low numbers of tests per million of adult population with even Bihar surpassing it in recent months. Figure 1 compares UP with Bihar, Kerala and Maharashtra in number of tests conducted per million of the projected adult population in 2021. The tests taken here are the weekly average of total tests.
Figure 1: Tests per Million Adult Population
UP has consistently been conducting fewer tests than states like Kerala and Maharashtra. In Agra, for instance, it was reported that private hospitals were ordered not to conduct tests. On May 9, “UP was ranked three by number of deaths—this does not include the vast uncounted numbers—but number 25 by tests conducted”. Some private hospitals secretly purchased antigen kits and offered testing at Rs 800 or more as they were not allowed to conduct tests, according to the report. One of the doctors reportedly conducted secret antigen tests in his hospital to ascertain the condition of his patients and all the 11 patients in the ICU tested positive.
Fudging of Testing Numbers?
Dr Shahid Jameel, renowned virologist and recipient of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology for his contribution to medical sciences, said that UP apparently fudged the testing data.
“According to the fourth ICMR Sero survey, on average, 67% of Indians had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, which is indicative of exposure/infection. This effectively shows that in the total population, about 92 crore Indians are positive. Since there are 3.38 crore reported cases in India, this is a factor of 27. In other words, for every Indian tested positive, 26 were missed.”
On the other hand, “in, UP, on average, 71% had antibodies as per the Sero survey. This amounts to 16.33 crore positive people in UP. Since there are 17 lakh reported cases in UP, this is a factor of 96. In other words, for every person in UP tested positive, 95 were missed. This can only happen when you fudge data”, Jameel said.
BJP MPs/MLAs ‘Expose’ UP Government
Reportedly, a number of MPs and MLAs publicly complained to the chief minister of shortage of oxygen, beds, medical equipment and a general lack of any medical support. Union minister of state for labour and employment Santosh Gangwar had highlighted such concerns as oxygen shortage, delay in hospital admissions and black-marketing of medical equipment in UP.
BJP’s Bareilly MLA Kesar Singh, who succumbed to the virus, had also written a letter to Adityanath. Others who reportedly wrote to him include UP Cabinet minister and Lucknow MLA Brijesh Pathak, Mohanlalganj MLA Kaushal Kishore, who lost his brother to COVID-19, Basti MP Haish Dwivedi, Bhadohi MLA Dinanath Bhaskar and Kanpur MP Satyadev Pachauri.
BJP’s Firozabad MLA Pappu Lodhi, who had tested positive, had released a video on social media saying his COVID-19-positive wife had to spend two-to-three hours lying on the ground at SN Medical College, Agra, due to unavailability of bed. Further, according to reports, minister of state for labour welfare Sunil Bharala had written letters regarding lack of oxygen, beds, and remedies in hospitals in Meerut. Rajendra Agarwal, an MP from Meerut-Hapur, had told Adityanath about the lack of oxygen in his area. Rudhauli Basti BJP MLA Sanjay Pratap Jaiswal wrote about the lack of medicine and beds in his constituency.
As reported, Bhadohi MLA Dinanath Bhaskar had alleged that Lal Bahadur Maurya, BJP district general secretary, has died due to the lack of space in an ICU injections. There have been several reports about common people losing their loved ones due to shortage of oxygen.
Discrepancy in Official records of Deaths
At the peak of the second wave, scores of bodies were found on the banks of the rivers across several districts. According to official figures, the number of deaths in UP was not significant. However, the cremation grounds told a different story altogether. Many journalists undertook a survey of the crematoriums and found the toll to be much higher.
As reported by one of the journalists, “officially, 196 people had died of the virus in Kanpur between April 16 and May 5, but the data from seven crematoriums showed nearly 8,000 cremations”. Down To Earth reported that at just one of the electric crematoriums designated for the COVID-19 deceased in Lucknow, 58 bodies were cremated between April 6 and 8 while the state government reported only 24 deaths in the same period.
There are similar stories of discrepancy from Ghaziabad, Agra, and Jhansi. While the state government reported zero or very less number of deaths for several days during in April, workers at the cremation grounds shared that “they were struggling daily to cremate the huge number of bodies”. A detailed ground report from Agra clearly shows how the COVID-19 situation was first mismanaged and then attempts were made to ensure that the facts were not revealed.
Reliving the painful memories of personal loss during the second wave, Jameel pointed to stories done by journalists showing the massive underreporting of deaths in UP. “The all-India figures show that 29.9% and 86.5% of estimated deaths were not part of civil registration and medical certification respectively. In UP, these figures are 56.7% and 97.7%. It is highly likely that many more people have died of COVID-19 in UP than those reported,” he said.
During the pandemic, one of the most common methods of capturing the discrepancy between reported and actual deaths was to calculate the excess mortality. Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis above and beyond what would have been expected under normal conditions.
In one of its ground reports, website Article 14 studied 24 UP districts between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, and noted the excess deaths to be between 10 and 335 times higher than the official COVIDw-19 death toll. Below are the statistics from a few of these districts.
Despite such damning ground reports, a huge publicity effort is under way to project that all is hunky-dory in UP especially with the Assembly polls a few months away.
(Data support on weekly average testing numbers across sates provided by Pulkit Sharma)