With the world watching, how long can India afford to be in denial?

The Centre says it has enough oxygen but this is untrue. Even BJP ruled states like Gujarat and Karnataka have called this bluff and we will make our jobs more difficult if we continue to be in denial

With the world watching, how long can India afford to be in denial?
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Aakar Patel

The world is worried about its Vishwaguru, as our mismanagement of Corona has become a global story. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent research centre in the United States has estimated that by September, which is four months away, 10 lakh or a million more Indians will die of Covid-19. And this is based on the official numbers, which are difficult to accept given what has been revealed by scenes in the crematoria and also by the numbers that newspapers have put out.

A newspaper in Gujarat reported on May 6 that 17,822 bodies had been cremated or buried with Covid protocols in one month in the state’s seven major cities: Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Baroda, Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar. But the government had acknowledged only 1,745 deaths officially from Covid, or 10%. And remember that these cities are only about a third or less of the state’s total population. In the villages the chances of those being tested and treated are even fewer.

This is not only about Gujarat of course. On 3 May a newspaper reported that Bhopal had acknowledged 104 deaths from Covid while reports from crematorium and cemetery spoke of 2,557 Covid patients among the total of 3,811 who were cremated or interred. That is a ratio of 1:25.

A report on May 4 from Haryana said the difference between the official death toll and the number from crematoria was 1:2. This is similar to the number reported for Bangalore for the last month (1,422 official toll versus 3,104 cremated with Covid protocols). In Uttar Pradesh a report from Meerut said the difference was 1:7.


If we remove the outliers and look at the data it seems like a figure of twice and perhaps three times the official is not unreasonable. If we take that into account, our official death toll of 2.3 lakhs, the third highest in the world, actually looks like 5.6 lakh or more than 7 lakh and easily the highest in the world. This will not surprise anyone and has been borne out by the saddening and shameful and horrific visuals that the entire world has now seen from India.

I should clarify that the fudging of the numbers is not entirely because of government fraud. It has happened in part because most people are dying at home, unable to access medical facilities or unable to afford them and they are not tested. Secondly, how a death is classified depends on the state government and the people making out the certificate. A person who has Covid but also has another disease can be classified as a Covid death or not.

It serves the immediate purpose of the government to pretend that the official number is low because it makes it appear less incompetent and helpless than it is. But hiding the number and not actively promoting the fact that things are worse is dangerous for us all.

The first reason why the government should come clean and say that its numbers are an undercount is public safety. If people are fed nonsense like “recovery rate” (a meaningless number for a disease that has no cure) then they will be less alert and more prone to carelessness on masking and social distancing. If they knew that many more people are dying after being infected especially because the government cannot manage hospitals at this point in time, they would not think they were personally safe.

The second reason is our shortage of oxygen. After Delhi, now two BJP run states, Gujarat and Karnataka have said that they are not getting enough oxygen from the Modi government. Gujarat has said it needs 1400 tons a day and will need 1600 tons a day by May 15 but is currently getting only 795 tons. Karnataka had asked for 1200 tons instead of 962 tons allotted by the Centre.

The third reason is credibility. The world is reporting the Indian numbers and saying that these cannot be believed. And the world cannot be blamed for feeling this, because it is true and based on what our own media is reporting.

The damage to India has already been considerable in terms of reputation but that is not important. What will happen is more countries banning Indian travellers. Already that list is quite large. In time the wave will recede but another is likely to come. At that point, the world will look at our official numbers and try and add a factor of their own to arrive at the real number if they think we are still fudging. This will harm Indians on work visas, families who are separated and Indian business in general.

That is why in our self-interest, we should actively make attempts to find out the real fatality rate as the first step for trying to curb this pandemic.

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