About 82,500 excess deaths have occurred in Bihar between January and May at a time when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic caused a surge in infections and deaths in India, NDTV reported, citing data from the state’s Civil Registration System. This has cast doubts on the state’s official data on Covid-19 deaths.

Between January and May, 2019, Bihar’s Civil Registration System showed that about 1.3 lakh deaths were reported in the state. For the same time period in 2021, the toll was almost 2.2 lakh.

A comparison of the figures from the same months in the two years showed there were about 82,500 excess deaths in the first five months of 2021, according to NDTV. Out of this, more than half of the deaths were reported in May, when the second wave was raging across the country.

However, Bihar’s official Covid-19 toll, recorded between January and May in 2021 was 7,717.

On June 9, as many as 3,951 backlog deaths were added to Bihar’s coronavirus fatalities after the Patna High Court flagged irregularities in May. The state’s toll was then increased to 9,429.

Authorities in Bihar had not clarified when the 3,951 deaths had occurred before updating the state toll. Therefore, it could be assumed that they occurred in 2021, according to NDTV.

Now, those registered as Covid-19 deaths in Bihar between January and May this year are only a fraction of the around 82,500 excess deaths found between the fatality figures of 2019 and 2021 in the state, NDTV reported.

As of Sunday morning, Bihar’s Covid-19 fatalities stood at 9,543, according to the data from the Union health ministry. As many as 3,396 patients are being treated and 7,06,461 have recovered.

Apart from Bihar, reports of underreporting Covid-19 deaths have emerged in multiple states. Non-governmental organisation Arappor Iyakkam in Chennai has alleged discrepancies in the state government’s figures on Covid-19 deaths in Tamil Nadu between April and May.

On May 14, Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar revealed the extent of underreporting of Covid-19 deaths by the state government amid the second wave of the pandemic. The newspaper found that the state had issued 1.23 lakh death certificates between March 1 and May 10, but registered only 4,218 Covid deaths.

India struggled to tackle the surge in Covid-19 infections due to the severe second wave of the coronavirus. During the months of April and May, hospitals across the country faced acute shortages of oxygen, beds and medical supplies.

Bihar reluctant to put Covid-19 deaths on public domain: HC

The Patna High Court on Friday observed that the Bihar government was “most reluctant” to publish the official figure of Covid-19 deaths in a public domain, reported Live Law.

“In our considered view, the resistance is uncalled for, for such action is neither protected by any law nor in consonance with good governance’s settled principles,” the High Court said.

A bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar noted that Bihar government officials were not periodically updating the digital portal on births and deaths in the state, despite assuring the High Court of the same.

“What is the reluctance to upload general information concerning all deaths?” the High Court asked.

The state’s counsel had on June 12 said no law mandated disclosure of the number of deaths on the government’s website. To this, the High Court on Friday responded, saying that the objection was not legally sustainable.

The High Court asked the state government that when the World Health Organization and the central government can provide the status of Covid-19, why was the state being reluctant to upload the information of all deaths on its official website.

“We are not unmindful that the information of fatalities arising out of Covid-19 is in the public domain,” the High Court said. “If that were so, then what is the reluctance to upload general information concerning all deaths that occurred during this period, be it for whatever reason.”

The High Court also reminded the state government of the facets of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) and asked: “As to whether more than ten crore people of the State of Bihar have a right to know, on a digital platform, the number of deaths that occurred in Bihar during the time of Covid-19...as to whether the Government has a corresponding duty to disclose either voluntarily or as mandated by law.”

The High Court also ordered that the state government’s website should be updated, reported NDTV. It also said that elected representatives must also disclose such data within 24 hours.