Thanks to Bihar, India has set a global record of 6,148 coronavirus deaths in its latest 24 hours report. According to an AFP tally, the previous highest fatalities was registered in the United State on 12 February when 5,527 people lost their lives due to the pandemic. Bihar reported a sudden jump of 72% in the COVID death figures in the last 24 hours, taking the total casualties in the state to 9,429. Yesterday, the state had reported total 5,424 deaths due to COVID-19.
First, it surprised people across India, with the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths gradually declining in the country after the disaster of the second wave. Then, the sharp spike raised several questions over the handling of the pandemic in Bihar, as the latest number was a massive revision in its COVID deaths count after the Patna High Court ordered an audit of fatalities flagging irregularities.
What the High Court took up has been confirmed after a three-week audit triggering doubts if the Nitish Kumar government was fudging the figures of COVID fatalities? According to media reports, the audit suggests that between March 2020 and 2021 only 1,660 people succumbed to coronavirus infections while from April to June 7 this year a total of 7,775 died in the pandemic. The revised number of the three-month span was about six times that of the previous 12-month duration which casts suspicion over the earlier count as well.
Indeed, the revision exercise is not new for India, as states like Maharashtra have been doing the same on a regular basis adding the number of deaths from previous weeks at the end of every month. But the case of Bihar is entirely different because the state government was ordered into the audit by the judiciary and the revision exercise was neither voluntary nor a part of due process.
Notably, after the latest revelation, the opposition has sharpened the attack on the Nitish Kumar government accusing it of mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and spinning death figures to hide its failure. Though the state Health Additional Secretary Pratyaya Amrit apparently blamed it on the delay in reports of deaths in private hospitals, home isolation, or due to post-Covid complications. Meanwhile, BJP called the revision of COVID deaths an attempt to maintain transparency and ensure justice.
The Patna High Court ordered an audit of deaths on May 17 after the affidavits filed by the state chief secretary and Patna divisional commissioner differed on 80 human bodies found floating in the Ganga in the Buxar district.