The Madhya Pradesh government claims that in Bhopal the corona pandemic has killed only 91 people. The data from crematoriums and graveyards in the city, however, shows the disease has snuffed out 180 lives till June 24.
Officials of crematoriums and graveyards in the city claimed that 180 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 so far. The last rites of 80 people killed by the virus were performed at Bhadbhada Ghat crematoriums and 14 at Subash Nagar crematorium. 86 people have been buried at the graveyard in Jahangirabad, they said.
The caretakers of crematoriums and graveyards claimed that Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) had asked the authorities of the Bhadbhada, Subash Nagar and Gondiyai crematorium grounds and those of Jahangirabad graveyard to dispose of the bodies of those dying of COVID-19, or suspected to have died from it, and maintain all such records.
They further claimed that the BMC had promised the crematoriums and graveyard authorities of paying Rs 5,000 for disposing of each body. Yet, they are waiting for the payment for performing the last rites of 172 people.
This reporter possesses the list of almost 150 people who were allegedly consumed by the pandemic and their bodies were disposed of in the graveyard and crematoriums in Bhopal.
When asked for his comments, principal secretary of state Health Department Faiz Ahmad Kidwai contended that the crematoriums and graveyard may have counted the bodies of people suspected of having died from COVID-19 as those of confirmed cases, leading to discrepancies in the figures.
However, the caretakers of graveyard and crematoriums clarified that they have only disposed of those bodies brought by hospital ambulances or BMC vehicles.
When this was conveyed to Kidwai, he replied, "There must be misunderstanding in maintaining the data. We will look into this matter."
As per the guidelines, the crematorium and graveyard authorities issue a certificate after disposing of the bodies to either the BMC worker who brought the body or the kin of the deceased. The certificate clearly mentions the reason of death in one of its columns with other details.
“The ambulances of COVID-19 dedicated hospitals or the BMC vehicles have been bringing the bodies of those who died of COVID-19 either in Hamidia Government Hospital, Chirayu or AIIMS to us. The bodies come in air-tight double plastic packing from the hospital. By taking all protective measures including wearing PPE kits, we cremate the body without any delay. Later on, we issue a certificate which says the person died of COVID-19,” said Lad Singh Sen, Manager of Bhadbhada crematorium.
Lad Singh further claimed that former BMC commissioner Vijay Dutta had promised paying Rs 5,000 to them for performing the last rites of COVID-19 victims. “Till then we had cremated 80 bodies, but received the payment for only eight. I have sent a list of 32 people who died of COVID-19 and were cremated at Bhadbhada last month for the payment. Now, I’m preparing another list of 40 people for the same,” he said.
The caretaker of Jahangirabad graveyard Rehan Golden also made similar claims. “Till June 24, we buried 86 bodies here by taking all precautions and issued certificates as well,” Golden said. “The government hospital’s ambulances or the BMC vehicles bring the bodies in sealed plastic packing. We immediately perform namaz and bury the body in no time. The graveyard management are bearing all the expenses till date,” he said.
“The BMC officials promised to pay Rs 5,000 for each COVID-19 body. A fortnight ago, I sent a list of 38 people who died of COVID-19 and were buried here. In addition to that, I had sent a similar list of 38 people nearly a month ago. However, I have received nothing till date,” said Golden.
The caretaker of Subhash Nagar crematorium, Somraj Sukhwani, gave a similar account. “Till now 14 bodies have been cremated here which were sent either by the BMC or Hospital authority, but no payment has been made despite repeated calls to the BMC officials,” he said.
When asked about the government’s claim that only 91 people have died of COVID-19 so far in Bhopal till June 24, they unanimously refuted the claim and said that the figure was much higher.
They further claimed that cases of murder, road accidents and suicides have drastically dropped during the lockdown which should reflect in the death figures, but the current year’s figures is slightly higher from the previous year.
Incidentally, a report published in Hindustan Times on June 18, bearing the headline ‘No Covid tests on dead bodies in MP’, claimed that the state Health Department has not been conducting tests on those who have died with COVID-19 symptoms.
Manoj Shrivastava, Deputy Commissioner of BMC, claimed that the corporation is only maintaining the data, and not making any payments. “The BMC officials collect the documents from the respective graveyard and crematoriums and cross check it with the concerned hospitals. Later on, the officials send it to the office of district collector for approval. Upon approval, the corporation sends the list to the Red Cross society, which is making the payment for disposing of the bodies of those who died of COVID-19,” he said, adding, "Till now, we have initiated the payment of 24 bodies."
Commenting over the issue, SR Azad of Jan Swasth Abhiyan said, "The data from crematoriums and graveyards of Bhopal are raising doubts about manipulation of COVID-19 death data. The matter needs to be probed. The Health Dept should come clean over the issue. This is a huge mismatch in death figures. "
Senior Journalist Rakesh Dixit claimed that there were reports of manipulation of COVID-19 death data in Indore as well as in Delhi. "Just like Delhi Government's COVID-19 death data mismatches with that of municipal corporations in Delhi, the records of crematoriums and graveyard in Bhopal is not matching with Madhya Pradesh Government's figures. The government should conduct a probe and re-verify the data. If this is the condition in the state capital, we can imagine the condition of others cities of the state," he added.
Several calls and messages made to Prabhakr Tiwari, Chief Medical Health Officer, Bhopal, and Sanjay Goel, state Health Commissioner went unanswered.