The worst fears of the pandemic time have finally come true -- at least in Bihar.
The Nitish Kumar government has admitted that the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in the state is many times higher than what its official statistics have shown so far. But will it prompt the other state governments to come clean on the death toll, wherever the death toll has lately been under a cloud?
On June 9, the Bihar health department dug out the details of 3,951 hitherto unreported deaths from 38 districts. As a result, India recorded 6,148 deaths, the highest number of Covid-19 casualties on a single day. On June 7, Bihar had reported altogether 5,424 deaths due to Coronavirus, which shot up to 9,376 in the next two days.
The figures were revised after month-long investigations by the district administration and health department officials to ascertain the exact number of Coronavirus-related deaths across Bihar. The state capital Patna alone accounted for 1,070 fresh cases, making its overall tally shoot up to 2,303 deaths.
The investigations were, of course, conducted after the State government had to face an embarrassing situation in Patna High Court over the Covid situation in Bihar last month. During the hearing of a PIL, an affidavit filed by the State Chief Secretary claimed that only six deaths had taken place in Buxar due to Covid between March 1 and May 13.
But a separate affidavit filed by the Patna divisional commissioner with the same bench mentioned as many as 789 cremations at just one cremation ground in the Western Bihar town between May 5 and May 14. The bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar had then asked the government to furnish fresh data after verifying the death toll from all sources. The health department subsequently constituted two committees to unravel the truth.
In the first week of May, 81 bodies of suspected Covid-19 patients had been fished out after they were found floating on river Ganga near Chausa Ghat in the Buxar district of Bihar. The Nitish Kumar government had then claimed that the bodies had flown into Buxar from Uttar Pradesh.
Even as it sparked a row between the two states, it fuelled speculations that a large number of people had died of Covid-19 in the rural areas allegedly for want of treatment in both the states. Many graves were also found later alongside the river in several towns of Uttar Pradesh. It was also alleged that most of the deaths were not accounted for in the official records.
All this while, foreign media as well as social workers back home maintained all along that the number of cremations taking place in different crematoriums in the state was much more than the official data compiled by the Indian government. The latest findings of the Nitish government only seem to corroborate that.
The startling revelation has given fresh ammunition to the Opposition in the state, with Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav hitting out at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for ‘hiding the death figures’. The state government has promised to take stern action against the erring officials and others responsible for hiding the exact number of deaths in the state. But the toll is likely to go up further since the data of many privates hospitals are reportedly yet to be verified. Scores of deaths in the hinterland have also gone unreported.
The controversy has now raised a moot point: Will other Chief Ministers also order an inquiry like Nitish to ascertain the magnitude of the tragedy during the pandemic in their respective states? They should. Dead men tell no tales but they certainly deserve to be counted and, if needed, recounted.