Data From Cremation, Burial Grounds Contradicts Delhi's Official COVID-19 Death Toll: Report

The actual death toll from COVID-19 could be four times higher than the official figure.

New Delhi: While the Delhi government has claimed that only 68 people have died so far in the city from COVID-19, 225 cremations have been performed under the protocol designed for the handling of dead bodies of coronavirus patients at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums and 89 burials had been carried out in adherence with the protocol at the ITO graveyard for Muslims. So the actual death count from cases of the novel coronavirus stood at 314 by Saturday.

Previously, reports on data from hospitals indicated that there were twice as many deaths from COVID-19 in Delhi than those reported by the Delhi government. The chief secretary had admitted that the discrepancy could be due to the failure on the part of hospitals in promptly sending the data to the Death Audit Committee.

According to a report in the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, the alleged discrepancy was discovered when the figures available with the authorities at the burial and cremation grounds were tallied against those being provided by the Delhi government.

The report stated that over 300 cremations and burials had taken place in the national capital in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Delhi government for treating the bodies of COVID-19 patients. It said that as per the protocol, 314 bodies had been handled at these sites until the day whereas the official death count for the city by then was just 68. The health ministry has since revised Delhi’s death toll 86.

Providing further details about how there had been a gross under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths, the daily said that while 153 bodies were cremated in line with Hindu traditions at Nigambodh Ghat, another 72 were cremated under the protocol at Punjabi Bagh cremation ground. Thus the total number of cremations, as per the protocol, alone stood at 225.

For details on the burial of 89 people under the protocol at the ITO graveyard, the newspaper also spoke to the secretary of its management committee, Haji Faiyazuddin, who said three of the burials had taken place on Saturday itself. He was quoted as saying that all these burials had taken place in compliance with the protocol. “We get a phone call from the hospital that they are bringing a dead body. In accordance with that (protocol) our employees also make all the preparations. The rules are followed in this,” he was quoted as saying.

Also read: Delhi Govt Admits to Under-Reporting COVID-19 Deaths, But Kejriwal Sticks to ‘Faulty’ Count

As for the cremations at the Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground, the newspaper spoke to Jaiprakash JP, the chairman of the Standing Committee of North Delhi municipal corporation. He said documents of all the 153 cremations performed as per the protocol there were available with the civic body. In all these cases the bodies were brought from hospitals directly in an ambulance and were then cremated as per the protocol.

He charged that the Delhi Government was hiding the actual death count. The government should reveal the real numbers so that people remain alert, he added.

The newspaper also got in touch with the Standing Committee chairperson of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation Bhupendra Gupta who said that there was also a CNG facility in the Punjabi Bagh cremation ground where cremations of COVID-19 patients were taking place. He also demanded that the government provide the actual figure on the death toll to the public so that people understand the gravity of the situation and remain better prepared.

It said the Delhi health minister and health secretary did not respond to repeated queries on the discrepancy in the official death figures and those available with the cremation and burial grounds.

Earlier, reports in the media had pointed out how there was a major discrepancy between the claims on the death toll made by the Delhi government and the data being provided by the various hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients and deaths. As per these reports, the hospital figures were nearly twice as much as the official toll count.

Subsequently, the Delhi chief secretary had acknowledged the underreporting of deaths due to the coronavirus. In an order to all the health and administration officials and in-charge of hospitals, he said that “the death summaries of the deceased patients are not being provided to the Death Audit Committee, resulting in incorrect and delayed reports being submitted.”

Through this order, he also issued standard operating procedures to all government and private hospitals regarding the sharing data on deaths due to the novel coronavirus with the Death Audit Committee.