Heat in HC after Buxar led to Covid toll revision
It’s thanks to the rigourous questioning by the Patna high court, which has been hearing a public interest litigation on Covid-19 management in Bihar, that the state government has finally corrected the figures of fatalities due to pandemic, putting the combined toll during the first and second wave to 9,375 after verification of data.
The trigger was Buxar, where 81 corpses were found floating in the Ganga river last month, sparking a widespread outrage.
On May 18, a bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar, detected inconsistency in figures of death in Buxar and expressed its anguish over failure to update websites for death registration even in the digital era. The court had sought details of the deaths – be it Covid or non-Covid.
“We are ‘aghast’ at the manner in which the affidavits are being filed. We notice that the official website maintained by the State of Bihar for recording the births and the deaths has not yet been updated. We see no reason as to why the deaths, whatever be the number and wherever they may have taken place, would not have been updated on the official website. Deaths may have also taken place in home isolation, at care centres, private hospitals etc. This would apply to all the districts of Bihar,” the bench observed.
On May 21, when former additional solicitor general SD Sanjay drew the attention of the bench to the issue of delay in issue of death registration certificates, which was causing problems to the kin of victims in availing insurance claims and other compensations, the court said Buxar was a test case and threatened “if the officials of the panchayati raj institutions and others don’t comply with the court’s order within a week and fail to update death registration, we will stop their salary and even seize their powers.”
On May 25, when the bench reiterated that it was important to that every death was recorded and documented from every village, block, district or town, as it could go a long way in helping the state prepare for the third wave with an overall view of the ground situation, the AG said that the chief secretary had directed all the district magistrates for the same and sought 10 days of time. The bench had then said it would not mind giving more time, but every death must be documented.
On June 1, the court again said it had been insisting from day one that the Centre’s digital programme for death registration be put in place, as it would help the state in forward planning with a clear picture. “If correct and up-to-date data is not there, how can the state plan?” the court asked
Advocate General (AG) Lalit Kishore admitted before the court that the registration of deaths needed to be expedited and that he would pass on court’s directions.
Kishore said on Thursday he would present the details before the court during the next hearing later this week.
Dr Sunil Kumar, state secretary of the Indian Medical Association, said the actual death toll could go higher still as the state was still considering the positive reports of the rapid antigen test (RAT) and RT-PCR only as the yardstick, while there were many who just did not go for any test and were in home isolation or others who tested negative in RAT and RT-PCR but were positive as per chest scan.
“The data collection In the rural areas is also very weak and so is the level of awareness. A large number of people remained in home isolation and those deaths are not reported in the absence of test reports,” he said.