COVID-19 toll: UP government may be undercounting its dead

Down to Earth visits an electric crematorium in Lucknow to uncover discrepancies in figures 

By Ranvijay Singh
Published: Tuesday 13 April 2021
Outside Baikunth Dham electric crematorium. Photo: Ranvijay Singh

The figures of novel coronavirus disease-related deaths released by Uttar Pradesh government for Lucknow may not tell the whole story. Down to Earth reported blatant discrepancies in figures released by the Bihar government April 12; Lucknow may have followed suit.

This reporter visited Baikunth Dham, an electric crematorium in Lucknow. The staff at all electric crematoria have been instructed to cremate the bodies of those who died of COVID-19; other bodies have to be burnt with wood logs, according to Munna, who cremates the dead at Baikunth Dham.

Uttar Pradesh registered 8,490 new COVID-19 cases on April 8, 2021, out of which 2,369 cases where from Lucknow. The state-released data claimed that 39 people died due to the disease April 8; 11 were from Lucknow.

Munna, however, cited a different figure.

“I cremated 19 dead bodies on April 8. It is noon (on April 9) and tokens for 15 bodies for cremation have already been distributed. The situation has been deteriorating since Holi,” he said.

He claimed the crematorium gets “around 20 dead bodies” every day.

A series of ambulances outside Baikunth Dham added substance to the claims made by Munna. Tokens had been distributed to ambulance drivers.

“I came here with a body at 11 am. I have been assigned a token, which is 12th in the line.  I was told I’ll have to wait till the evening for my turn,” said Kanhaiyalal, an ambulance driver.

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

  • On April 6, 18 cremations were conducted
  • On April 7, 22 cremations were conducted
  • On April 8, 18 cremations were carried out

The government-released figures for Lucknow, however, stated:

  • April 6: 7 deaths
  • April 7: 6 deaths
  • April 8: 11 deaths

The movement outside Baikunth Dham also spoke volumes about the ground reality. “The crowd started pouring in after Holi. We would get to see only four-five vehicles out here before the festival.”

It takes around 45 minutes to cremate a body in the electric crematorium. Munna has been working round the clock due to the sudden rush and increasing number of bodies.

“We start at sunrise and work till the sun sets. This is a strange disease; even their relatives don’t touch the dead bodies. But this is our job and we have to do it,” said Munna.

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