The increase in death registration in 2020 compared to 2019 is not entirely due to Covid fatalities, Niti Aayog member VK Paul has said, asserting that "exorbitant" multiples of coronavirus deaths being published by some agencies with respect to India must stop.
As an example, Paul, who is also the COVID-19 Task Force chief, referred to a recent publication in the Lancet that claimed that India's estimated cumulative Covid deaths between January 2020 and December 2021 were over eight times higher than reported.
The documented deaths due to the Covid in India over that period was around 4,89,000, the Lancet had claimed in its paper titled 'Estimating excess mortality due to the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic analysis of COVID-19-related mortality, 2020-21'.
It had also claimed that India's estimated cumulative excess deaths due to Covid during the period were the highest in the world at 4.07 million.
The government on Tuesday published the Civil Registration System (CRS) report 2020 based on birth and death reports. In the case of registered deaths, the number has gone up from 76.4 lakh in 2019 to 81.2 lakhs in 2020, an increase of 6.2 per cent, the RGI's report 'Vital Statistics of India based on the Civil Registration System' for 2020 said.
"Now that actual count of excess deaths from all the causes is available, there is no rationale for using modelling-driven estimates based on pure conjectures and assumptions," Paul said, debunking the allegations that India is massively under-reporting deaths during the pandemic. According to CRS, death registration has increased by 4.75 lakh in 2020 compared to 2019.
Paul pointed out that compared to the calendar year 2018, in 2019 there was 6.9 lakh excess mortality. The findings of the CRS study assume significance with India recently questioning the World Health Organisation's methodology to estimate Covid mortalities in the country, saying using such mathematical modelling cannot be applied to estimate the death figures for such a vast nation of geographical size and population.
Covid deaths were 1.49 lakh in 2020, according to official data based on a robust surveillance system set up for Covid, he said. "The number of deaths is also being corrected and reconciled by states," Paul said, adding that this is a transparent and accountable system.
According to him, more death registration is also happening because people are conscious, that they need death certificates for property and other purposes. "And generally also due to ease of operation and digitisation, people are coming forward. Population size also increases every year, contributing to more deaths," Paul said.
He also pointed out that excess death registration increase has been noted in previous years despite a declining death rate and no outbreaks. "So, we must remember that extra deaths are not due to COVID-19 deaths, but there are other reasons and causes as well," he asserted.
The Niti Aayog member also noted that there is an increase in population and this must have contributed to deaths. He said the CRS report is based on data from the ground level and data from across districts etc are captured meticulously. This information is based on birth and death registration, which is a pillar of public policy.