Cremation count casts doubt over Covid death data in Chandigarh and Panchkula

Against 42 official deaths in Chandigarh and 18 in Panchkula, managers at crematoriums say they have conducted last rites of 70 and 30 patients, respectively
Caretakers at the crematorium say the details of cremations, including those of Covid patients, are forwarded to the municipal corporation every day. (HT File Photo)
Caretakers at the crematorium say the details of cremations, including those of Covid patients, are forwarded to the municipal corporation every day. (HT File Photo)
Published on Apr 22, 2021 01:50 AM IST
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ByRajanbir Singh and Tanbir Dhaliwal, Chandigarh/panchkula

Even as official numbers indicate there have been 42 Covid deaths in Chandigarh so far in April, the cremation grounds in the city say the number is as high as 70, pointing to discrepancy between the health department data and the situation on the ground.

Even in Panchkula, according to the administration, 18 people died due to coronavirus in the same period, while the number reported by the city’s only cremation ground in Sector 20 is 30.

Similarly, in March, officially there were 26 Covid deaths in Chandigarh, but 33 cremations were carried out.

In Panchkula, the bulletin showed five deaths, while there were 15 cremations in March.

Apart from the traditional and LPG crematorium in Sector 25, Chandigarh, the cremation ground in Industrial Area also takes care of last rites of Covid patients from the city. Another such facility in Manimajra does not cremate Covid patients.

At the Sector 25 crematorium, 49 Covid patients from Chandigarh have been cremated in April so far, while the number is 21 at the Industrial Area ground.

No test report sought at UT’s crematoriums

Covid cremations in Chandigarh are mostly taken care of by members of the Red Cross. Families of the deceased also bring bodies directly after informing the crematoriums. But, there is no protocol to seek a Covid report or conduct a test before the last rites.

According to the caretakers, the daily details of cremations, including those of Covid patients and those brought by families, are forwarded to the municipal corporation (MC). But, it remains unclear, if the data is calibrated thereon.

Dr Amandeep Kang, director, health services, said if a patient dies at home, the family must get a Covid test conducted for consistency in the figures.

“If there is a Covid death in any city hospital, our surveillance cell gets the information. All hospital deaths are tested for Covid. Perhaps, people are going to the cremation ground and writing the cause of death as Covid in absence of a facility to verify it,” she said.

Stating that there was no question of hiding fatalities, UT adviser Manoj Parida said there was a protocol in place at the hospitals, and every death was counted for and timely information was provided to all stakeholders.

Families may be providing Panchkula address: DC

On the discrepancy in the numbers in Panchkula, deputy commissioner Mukul Kumar said at times, attendants from other cities and states gave a Panchkula address at the cremation ground, despite not being from here. “To avoid any mismatch in figures, their addresses are cross-checked by health department teams and the data is updated accordingly,” he added.

However, a worker at the Sector-20 crematorium, said, “We always ask for a copy of the deceased’s Aadhaar card and another of a family member, which is used to record the address. Besides, why would anyone give a wrong address of the deceased?”

Overall cremations rising

With the surging Covid-19 cases, the number of overall cremations in both cities has also risen between March and April.

According to the three crematoriums in Chandigarh, they have carried out 393 cremations in April so far, while the number in the corresponding period in March was 284.

In Panchkula, against 36 cremations through March, the city’s sole crematorium recorded another 47 within 20 days of April.

However, the facilities aren’t under stress, as they have the capacity to conduct a lot more cremations should the need arise. The Industrial Area crematorium for instance, has the capacity to perform 24 cremations a day, but so far, the maximum has only been six.

“It’s true that Covid-19 deaths are being underreported in the country, as many deaths at home could also have been due to Covid. At the same time, there is a possibility that people with other ailments aren’t getting proper medical care, as hospitals are burdened with Covid-19 patients, leading to more casualties,” said Dr Rajesh Kumar, former head, community medicine, and dean, PGIMER.

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