The Congress on Saturday alleged that the Centre, in conjunction with some state governments, was suppressing the actual Covid death tolls that were several times higher than the official figures, and demanded a judicial probe.
A joint statement from P. Chidambaram and Shaktisinh Gohil described the alleged fudging as a “grave misdeed” and “national shame” and cited specific numbers to suggest that BJP-ruled Gujarat had heavily manipulated Covid death figures.
“On May 14, Divya Bhaskar, a Gujarati-language newspaper, published a news story that sent shock waves throughout Gujarat and the country,” the statement said.
“The thrust of the story was that during the period March 1 to May 10 of this year (2021), Gujarat issued about 123,000 death certificates as against about 58,000 death certificates issued during the same period last year (2020). The increase was an alarming number of about 65,000 death certificates.”
The statement added: “This increase cannot be explained as a natural annual increase in the number of deaths. It can only be attributed to a pandemic or any other natural disaster. We have independently verified the two numbers referred to above for the period of 71 days. We have collected the numbers from 33 districts.
“The sum of the numbers of the death certificates nearly tallies with the numbers published by Divya Bhaskar: 123,873 in 2021 vs 58,068 in 2020. During the period March 1, 2021, to May 10, 2021, the government of Gujarat has officially admitted to only 4,218 Covid-related deaths.”
The Congress sought an explanation of the difference between the official Covid death figure and the increase in death certificates.
“Our suspicions are confirmed by the fact that hundreds of unidentified bodies have been found floating on the River Ganga and nearly 2,000 unidentified bodies have been found buried (in) the sand along the River Ganga,” the statement said.
“We have a strong suspicion that the Government of India, in conjunction with some state governments, is suppressing the true numbers of new infections and Covid-related deaths. If our suspicions are true, this is a grave misdeed apart from being a national shame and a national tragedy.”
At a joint news conference, Gohil said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should muster the courage to order a judicial probe by a sitting or retired Supreme Court judge.
Chidambaram said: “The National Human Rights Commission must ask every state to submit the number of death certificates issued in 2020 and 2021. Gujarat has recorded 65,000 more deaths and the situation will be more or less similar in all the states.
“The Congress state units should also write to all the chief ministers seeking the number of deaths and (that of) death certificates issued during this period. These statements can be sent to the lawyers who are fighting Covid-related cases in the Supreme Court.”
Chidambaram sought the media’s help in ascertaining the correct numbers and congratulated Divya Bhaskar.
He asked doctors and scientists to speak the truth instead of playing the government’s game on the recommended gap between the two vaccine doses. He cited how Britain had reduced the gap for the AstraZeneca vaccine from 12 to 8 weeks while India had widened it from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.
Chidambaram said: “The government is trying to fool the people of the country. We don’t have the vaccines. Can the government tell us which international firm has assured us (that it will) supply vaccines? Have we finalised the contract, placed the order?”
Asked about the Karnataka Congress unit’s declaration that it would buy vaccines worth Rs 100 crore to give it free to people aged between 18 and 45, he said: “That is just a gesture, signalling our intent to help. There must be somebody willing to give vaccines.”
Chidambaram described as “very very disappointing” the refusal by the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to allow virtual meetings of parliamentary committees on the ground of the confidentiality of the proceedings.
“The world over, parliaments are meeting. What is the secrecy they are talking about? We are going to discuss the pandemic, not defence secrets or nuclear policy. The pandemic should be discussed on public platforms,” he said.
Gohil added: “Modi doesn’t want his failures to be debated. That’s the Gujarat model. He didn’t allow the Assembly to function in Gujarat. The same thing is happening here now.”