In Bhopal, official Covid toll in April is 109, but over 2,500 at pyres, graves

In the month of April, the official Covid death toll in Bhopal district was 109. File photo

In the month of April, the official Covid death toll in Bhopal district was 109. Records accessed by The Indian Express from the three crematoriums and one kabristan designated for Covid deaths in the district show that besides the 109, 2,567 bodies were laid to rest under the Covid protocol from April 1-30.

Records show that the four facilities together also managed 1,273 other, non-Covid, deaths during this period. In contrast, records maintained by these facilities show they laid to rest an estimated 500 bodies in pre-Covid April 2019.

This matches the pattern playing out in parts of the country where the official death toll captures only a slice of the havoc caused by the pandemic — the Covid protocol is used for confirmed or suspected cases.

Three days ago, The Indian Express reported that in Delhi, data from 23 key crematoriums and cemeteries maintained by civic bodies show that from April 18 to April 27, as many as 3,049 died of Covid — and, an almost equal number of deaths (3909) were of those suspected to have had Covid.

Six crematoriums, four kabristans

Overall, Bhopal has six crematoriums and four kabristans. The four Covid-designated facilities are Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat, Subhas Nagar Vishram Ghat, Bairagarh Ghat and Jhada Kabristan. Bairagarh was added to the list only on April 20 following a severe space crunch in the other two ghats.

Authorities at the crematoriums and kabristan said they were struggling to cope with the rush of bodies.

“Our crematorium is in a bad shape with gloves and PPE kits strewn all around, and our staff is overworked. The municipal corporation should at least ensure sanitisation and cleaning of the crematorium ground,” said Somraj Sukhwani, manager, Subhas Nagar Vishram Ghat, which is run by Shri Vishram Ghat Trust-Bhopal.

“We have run out of space and manpower. The eight boys tasked with digging graves are unable to keep up with the number of bodies coming in. The graveyard committee gets a JCB twice a week to dig graves in advance, which are then levelled by the boys when a body comes in,” said Rehan Golden, president of Jhada Kabristan committee.

“There were 170 non-Covid burials in April, which is an unusually high number since our monthly average is around 60. We suspect that a lot of Covid deaths are coming as natural deaths,” he said.

Separate area for Covid cremations

Confirming the surge, Arun Chaudhary, president, Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat, said they have a separate area for Covid cremations where the bodies that come wrapped as per the Covid protocol are laid to rest.

Asked about the toll recorded at the three crematoriums and graveyard, Dr Prabhuram Chaudhary, Minister for Public Health and Family Welfare, said: “The state has no interest in hiding the figure of deaths. Perhaps many are suspected cases that have been cremated with Covid protocol. Such incidents have come to light before as well.”

Additional Chief Secretary (Health), Mohammad Suleman, said: “In fact, if there is a spike in deaths, it is all the more important for it to be conveyed to people so that they get vaccinated. As of now, only 26 per cent of beds in Covid care centres, mainly for isolation, are occupied. If anyone who has tested positive comes to the Covid centre, at least their needs can be met with if their condition worsens.”


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