Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday questioned the Centre’s figure on coronavirus deaths in the country, a day after the World Health Organization put the toll due to the infection in India much higher at 47 lakh till the end of 2021.

The global health body’s toll is nearly 10 times more than what the Indian government’s official records state. The Union health ministry has claimed that 4,81,000 citizens have died between January 2020 and December 2021. As of Friday, the toll stood at 5,24,002.

“Forty-seven lakh Indians died due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Gandhi tweeted, sharing data released by the WHO on global excess Covid-19 deaths. “Not 4.8 lakh as claimed by the government. Science doesn’t LIE. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi does.”

The Congress leader also sought immediate compensation of Rs 4 lakh for families of those who died due to the coronavirus disease.

According to the WHO report published on Thursday, India was among 20 countries that accounted for more than 80% of the estimated excess global deaths associated with Covid-19 between 2020 and 2021.

Excess deaths are the divergence between all-cause deaths reported during pandemic years and in normal years. The numbers are an indicator of undercounting of deaths caused by Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that in July 2021, he had pointed out the actual Covid-19 deaths would be higher than what the government was claiming.

The World Health Organization estimated the excess mortalities by calculating the difference between the “number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years”.

Soon after the report was released, the Union Health Ministry objected to the methodology used by the global health body to estimate excess deaths.

On Friday, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused Gandhi of engaging in politics over India’s Covid-19 death numbers, PTI reported.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra credited India for having a “robust mechanism for birth and death registrations”.

“Gandhi has tried repeatedly to lower Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image since 2014 and has in the process lowered India’s image,” Patra said, reported PTI. “The WHO’s data and the Congress’ beta [son] are wrong.”

Higher toll in India

Multiple reports have pointed out that guidelines have not been followed in cases of deaths caused due to post-Covid complications in India and that crematoriums were not maintaining proper records of fatalities.

In March, medical journal The Lancet had said in a study that India had the highest number of excess deaths in the world at 40.7 lakh between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021.

In June, an article published in The Economist on a research by Christopher Leffler of the Virginia Commonwealth University suggested that India’s actual toll could be more than 20 lakh. India’s official toll at that time was 3,67,081.

A month before that, The New York Times had reported that India’s toll could be as high as 6 lakh by conservative estimates, and up to 42 lakh in the worst case scenario. At the time of publishing of the report, India’s official toll was 3.15 lakh.

The Centre has dismissed all these reports.