It is meant to be a ‘joke’. But there is nothing even remotely comic about it. Instead, it serves as a grim reminder of what has been the subject of animated discussion across the state for months now, but something the state government is hell bent on pushing under the carpet: the actual death toll due to Covid-19.
So, here it goes. A doctor goes around a battlefield after a bloody war inspecting the dead and the injured and tying a tag saying ‘dead’ or ‘alive’ as the case may be so that the dead could be taken for cremation and the injured shifted to the hospital for treatment. As is only natural, those injured are shifted first before a team comes to shift the dead to the cremation/burial ground. As one member of the team lifts the body of one person tagged ‘dead’ by the doctor, the ‘dead’ man miraculously groans indistinctly; “I am alive.” But the member of the clearing team would have none of it. “Shut up. Do you know more than the doctor?” he growls before shoving the ‘body’ on to the vehicle for shifting to the cremation ground!!
If it isn’t already clear, the ‘joke’ above has to do with the elaborate exercise undertaken by the state government to keep the Covid toll in the state well below its actual number so that it can continue to claim it has fought the deadly virus better than other states and has, in fact, emerged as a ‘role model’ for others to follow. As per the latest bulletin issued by the Information & Public Relations (I & PR) department this morning, the total number of deaths in Odisha since the beginning of the pandemic last year is 4063. One does not have to be a grave-digger to know that this figure is a gross understatement and the actual number of deaths is several times higher.
The problem with trying to hide deaths due to Corona is that unlike deaths caused by other causes, they cannot be swept under the carpet because those dying of the pandemic have to be cremated separately from other people dying of natural causes as per a protocol put in place by the Union government. There is thus little scope of passing off Covid deaths as ‘normal’ deaths because the numbers stare at us in all their grim reality. An RTI query has now brought out into the open what was being talked about for months. As per a reply to a query, it has been revealed that no less than 3480 people who died of Covid 19 were cremated at the Satya Nagar crematorium in Bhubaneswar alone by the end of December last year. But if the figures doled out by the government are to be believed, only 1873 people had died of Covid in the Whole State by the same period! Extrapolate these figures to other places in the state and you can get an idea about the extent of obfuscation of the Covid toll.
Interestingly, it is the government itself which has put the spotlight, unwittingly though, back on the Covid deaths. The near and dear ones of many who died of Covid were too grief stricken at the time to bother about having a proper death certificate issued. In most cases, the death certificates issued attributed the deaths to other causes while a few did not even bother attributing it to any cause in particular! The fact that many of the deceased had been admitted with co-morbidities certainly helped. But with the launch of the Ashirvad scheme, which promises a range of long-term benefits to children who have lost one or both parents to Covid, there is now a scramble for ‘death due to Covid’ certificates. But their desperate pleas are falling on deaf ears.
Eyebrows were raised when the daily Covid death figures released by the government, after remaining below 20 for months, suddenly started reaching the 30s and then 40s last month. It was only when questions were raised over the sudden spurt in the toll that the government came out with an explanation that the death figures released daily did not just pertain to the deaths taking place in the previous 24 hours, but also took into account deaths attributed to Covid after a ‘review’ by the district and state level committees formed for the purpose. The review itself, in all probability, was a response to states like Maharashtra and Bihar having to revise their Covid death figures after the intervention of the courts and prompted by an apprehension that a similar court order could embarrass the Odisha government.
What one fails to understand is what exactly is there to ‘review’? A Covid death is a Covid death and the doctor treating/examining the patient should have no problem attributing it as such. But as in the ‘joke’ cited at the beginning, the doctor perhaps doesn’t always know the best. In Odisha’s case, however, the more likely scenario is that the doctor does know the best, but has to pretend that he doesn’t under duress! One does not have to be an epidemiologist to know that the ‘review’ is essentially an exercise to see how many deaths caused by Covid can be passed off as deaths due to other causes so that the Covid toll remains low and the Odisha government could continue to claim that it had managed to keep the casualties at the minimum with its exemplary management of the pandemic.
But does it really help? Can truth really be hidden from the public? The answer has to be an emphatic and unequivocal ‘No’ because the cold figures give the game away. Fudging of the Covid toll doesn’t really help anyone, least of all the government. If anything, it only embarrasses the government when the truth is inevitably out in the open.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
More From The Author: If Didi Was A Tough Nut To Crack For BJP, Naveen Is Even Tougher