COVID-19 toll : Are the government figures about Bihar COVID-19 deaths correct

Down To Earth visits one of Patna’s oldest cremation grounds to unearth a discrepancy in figures  

By Umesh Kumar Ray
Published: Monday 12 April 2021
Smoke billows from the Baansghat Electric Crematorium in Patna, Bihar. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray__

Are the number of deaths being reported by the Bihar government since the start of the ‘second wave’ of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) accurate? An investigation by Down To Earth shows there is much more than meets the eye.

This reporter visited one of the oldest crematoria in Patna city to ascertain the truth. The Baansghat crematorium has two electric furnaces.

After the COVID-19 lockdown was declared in March-end last year, the crematorium was specially designated as the final destination for the dead bodies of those who had died from the illness.

Later, as the number of deaths fell, bodies of people dying due to reasons other than COVID-19 were again allowed to be burnt.   

An employee of the crematorium shared figures from its register for April 6, April 7, April 8 and April 9, 2021. According to that:

  • On April 6, 23 corpses were brought to Baansghat, of which 10 were of COVID-19 victims
  • On April 7, five of 17 dead bodies were of COVID-19 victims
  • On April 8, 11 of 19 dead bodies were COVID-19 victims
  • On April 9, 10 of 19 bodies were of COVID-19 victims

Thus, the dead bodies of some 36 people who died from COVID-19, were consigned to flames at Baansghat from April 6-9.

The Bihar health department recently issued a list according to which 1,595 people had died due to COVID-19 in the state till April 8 and 1,586 had died till April 5.

This means that between April 6 and 8, only nine people died from COVID-19 in Bihar according to the government.

However, as this reporter found, the dead bodies of some 26 COVID-19 victims were burnt between April 6 and 8 in one crematorium in Patna alone.

This reporter sent queries to the state health minister and the health secretary on the issue. This story will be updated once their replies are in.

Dr Shakeel, a public health professional, told this reporter: “These are the figures from just one crematorium in Patna. One must factor in figures from crematoria all over the state as well as Islamic and Christian burial grounds.

Only then can a true picture of deaths emerge.”

“The number of dead bodies being brought here to Baansghat had surged between April and August last year before stemming,” Nawal Kishore Sharma, who has been selling materials to be used in last rites near the crematorium for the last 30 years, said.

“The number has again increased since Holi this year. Between 17 and 20 dead bodies are being brought here every day since then. In the pre-COVID days, 10 bodies used to be brought here on an average every day,” he said.

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