We're Live Bangla Sunday, April 02, 2023



Aerial photographs of cremations in Delhi - innumerable pyres in a row that even landed on the front pages of foreign publications - have been indicating since last week that the actual number of deaths from Covid might be different from the official figures. After visiting the city's civic body and seven cremation grounds, NDTV found that at least 1,150 deaths did not make it to the official Covid list.

Data collected from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for 26 crematoriums it runs, shows that 3,096 cremations of Covid victims were conducted between April 18 and April 24.

The total figure of Covid deaths released by the Delhi government in the same period show 1,938 deaths - indicating that 1,158 Covid deaths in Delhi may have gone uncounted.

MCD counts as Covid deaths only the bodies that are brought from hospitals. The reason for the mismatch of its data with official figures is not yet known.

A visit to the city's crematoriums revealed another uncharted territory - people who die of Covid at home.

At the overflowing Ghazipur Crematorium on the outskirts of Delhi - where families of Covid victims were seen waiting to complete paperwork - a staff member said people who died of Covid at home are not recorded as Covid cremations.

"People who come from hospitals, come in ambulances. Others bring (bodies) from home. But if we look at their reports we will find that it is respiratory failure," said Anuj Bansal, a staff member of the Ghazipur crematorium.

"We put down their cause of deaths as Covid or normal. If the death happened at a hospital, we know if it's Covid. When death happened at home, we don't know for sure, so we always put it as normal," he added.

The MCD does not count these deaths as Covid deaths either. If the family says at the crematorium that the victim was battling Covid, it is counted in a separate category called "suspected". The cremation, though, takes place with Covid protocol.

At Ghazipur, Manish and Neel Gupta have spent four hours waiting to cremate their father, who died of Covid. Manish Gupta said says his father died at home as they failed to get him admitted to any hospital.

"My father died because of lack of oxygen. In Mandavali," he said. "He died at home. We went to so many hospitals - government and private. They didn't treat him anywhere. They have beds but still won't give treatment," he added.

Asked how long he has been waiting, he said since 8.30 in the morning. "We came at 4 am and 6 am also. And 9:30 pm yesterday... Desperate for oxygen and now desperate to cremate. This government is useless," he added.

Delhi government is yet to respond to our request for a comment.

At Delhi's biggest and oldest crematorium ground, Nigambodh Ghat, plumes of thick black smoke can be seen from afar. The number of cremations here has gone up from 15 per day to over 30 and families have to sometimes wait for 4-5 hours for their turn.

In every crematorium, bereaved families have been waiting for hours. At the Sarai Kale Khan cremation ground in south Delhi, the bodies were piling up. While the rules allow the crematorium to handle only 20 bodies a day, these days they are getting 60 or 70 bodies - so many that they had to build around 100 new cremation platforms at a nearby park.

"You can see these new platforms. We will finish these by today. There are 60-70 bodies coming every day. We have a lot of pressure from the higher-ups to finish this as soon as possible," contractor Pashupati Mandal told NDTV.

The surge of dead is so high that non-profits are stepping in. At Seemapuri crematorium in Northeast Delhi, Jitender Singh Shunty, former BJP MLA and a social worker is helping organize funerals with his NGO, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal. They run an ambulance service to safely transport bodies of covid victims, including people who died in home quarantine.

Mr Shunty confirmed that official figures don't reflect the home deaths.

"Yes, this is happening in all of Delhi... We bring bodies which were in home isolation. Government figures only reflect bodies that come through the mortuary. So statistics become wrong," said Mr Shunty.

CommentsOutside the Sarai Kale Khan crematorium, the wait is so long that a family member in a PPE collapsed in exhaustion. Whether the death of his loved one will make it to official record remains uncertain.