If the Adityanath government is to be believed, between April 19 and April 30, no more than 36 people died of Covid in Meerut, one of Uttar Pradesh’s most populous districts.
However, the register maintained by Surajkund crematorium, Meerut’s largest, recorded 264 cremations of those who had succumbed to Covid in the same period.
The register, accessed by Newslaundry, shows that on April 23, the day the district’s chief medical officer reported zero Covid deaths, the crematorium recorded 29 Covid cremations out of 52 cremations in total.
The Adityanath government also reported zero deaths on April 19, when the crematorium recorded 13. On April 29, when the facility cremated 34 people who had died of Covid, out of total 75 cremations, the district administration attributed only five deaths to the rampaging disease.
On April 30, Uttar Pradesh reported 332 Covid deaths, taking the state’s fatality count to 12,570. The same day, 34,626 people tested positive for the virus, officially.
The daily Covid numbers are reported for the previous day. So, Covid data released on April 23 reflects deaths in Meerut from the night of April 22 to the evening of April 23.
The records at the Surajkund crematorium are maintained by the Ganga Motor Committee, an association which has been running the facility for decades.
“The cause of death in our register is filled by family members of the deceased,” said Bijendra Singh, the Ganga Motor Committee manager. “They determine whether it is Covid, diabetes, or heart attack. Sometimes they don’t write it at all, or just write ‘illness’.”
The Adityanath government is hardly oblivious of the numbers recorded at Surajkund. Bijendra said for a week now an official from the Meerut Municipal Corporation has been stationed at the crematorium.
Ganga Motor Committee manager Bijendra Singh.
Newslaundry found 264 entries in the register from April 19 and the evening of April 30 mentioning “corona”, “Covid” or “Covid 19” as the cause of death. One entry simply said “lack of oxygen”.
The office of Meerut’s chief medical officer, Akhilesh Mohan, recorded only 36 deaths due to Covid in this period, meaning the district administration has underreported Covid deaths by a factor of seven.
Surajkund is one of a half dozen crematoria in Meerut city. Its figures only reflect the deaths of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, who together are 63 percent of the district’s population, according to the 2011 census. Muslims account for about 36 percent of the population.
“On a normal summer day, we used to record about 15 deaths,” said Bijendra. “For the past week it has shot up to 80 deaths a day.” In his estimate, in the past week, almost 40 people who had Covid have had their last rites done at the crematorium on a daily basis.
Asked about this discrepancy, CMO Mohan told Newslaundry that “many people dying in Meerut hospitals are coming from other districts like Gautam Buddh Nagar, Ghaziabad and Bulandshahr” and are not accounted for in the numbers released by his administration.
Mohan seems to have been exaggerating this phenomenon. According to the Surajkund crematorium register, of the 13 people who had Covid protocol cremations on April 19, eight were from Meerut, and one each from Hapur, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr and Saharanpur.
When we pointed this out, Mohan said, “There are also cases where people with Covid symptoms succumb but they test negative for the infection, either in RT-PCR or rapid antigen tests. They do not figure in the numbers released on the government portal.”
So, under the CMO’s watch in Meerut and by his own admission, people are dying of Covid but not testing positive for it. “This is quite an anomaly,” Mohan shrugged.
Pictures by Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar.