Covid: Leap in Bihar death numbers shows audit need
Bihar’s Covid death figures jumped from 5,478 on Tuesday to 9,429 on Wednesday evening, the increase of 3,951 or 72 per cent resulting from a data revision directed by Patna High Court.
Senior health department officials said the state government had carried out a three-week audit that the high court had ordered amid allegations that the authorities were hiding the number of coronavirus infections and deaths.
The sharp rise in the death toll following the revision will not just vindicate those who had questioned the transparency and reliability of the Bihar government’s Covid data, it will also mount pressure on other states like Uttar Pradesh that too have been accused of fudging figures.
The foreign media and sections of the domestic media — such as the Divya Bhaskar in Gujarat — have been accusing the central and state governments of underreporting Covid deaths.
The New York Times last month suggested the actual Covid infections in India could be 20 to 26 times the government figure, and the death count could be 5 to 13 times the official toll.
A division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar had rapped the Bihar government in May after noticing inconsistencies in the death tolls for Buxar district provided in separate affidavits by the chief secretary and the Patna divisional commissioner.
Additional chief secretary (health) Pratyaya Amrit admitted on Wednesday that the previous figures were incorrect.
“We found that the death toll figures were not being sent from the districts. Committees were formed at the various medical colleges and hospitals, and also in the districts, to verify the exact number (of deaths). They have submitted their reports and included the post-Covid deaths of patients,” Amrit told reporters.
He promised an inquiry and punishment for officials guilty of dereliction.
Amrit tried to explain the high revised toll by saying it reflected the deaths at private hospitals, deaths during transit to hospitals, deaths in home isolation and deaths from post-Covid complications.
He did not explain why all the deaths had not been counted before.
Media reports suggest that even the revised toll may not be correct. The logbooks at Patna city’s three crematoriums alone show at least 3,000 Covid deaths since March last year — which is far higher than the revised official figure of 2,303 for the entire Patna district — journalists who have collated these figures say.
The revised figures suggest the death toll has been much higher in Bihar during the second wave. They show 1,600 Covid deaths between March 2020 and March 2021, and over 7,800 between April and June 9 this year.
Patna remains the worst-hit district, followed by Muzaffarpur with 609 Covid deaths and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s home district of Nalanda with 463.
The audit has found unreported Covid deaths in 35 of the state’s 38 districts: 1,070 in Patna, 316 in Begusarai, 314 in Muzaffarpur, 292 in East Champaran and 222 in Nalanda. Arwal, Siwan and Munger were the only districts where no unreported deaths were detected.
According to state government figures, Bihar has witnessed 7.15 lakh Covid cases so far, with the number of active cases totalling 7,353 on June 9. The revised death toll brought the recovery rate down from 98.13 per cent on June 8 to 97.65 per cent on June 9.
Opposition politicians attacked the state government, with Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav blaming the chief minister.
“Nitishji, don’t lie and make others lie so much that you will never be able to stand up again. You increased the death toll by 4,000 suddenly in a day after getting trapped. The Nitish government is fake, hence its data will also be fake,” Tejashwi said.
Congress politician Prem Chandra Mishra said: “Why was the government lying on the issue so far?”
Jan Adhikar Party leader and former MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav alleged a “death scam” by the state government and demanded identification of “the person in the health department involved in fudging the death toll”.