As the COVID surge wreaks havoc in India, the ground realities refuse to match with official data, specially on deaths. Local newspapers in Gujarat are making efforts to expose the ground reality of COVID-related deaths in the state, in direct contrast to the official numbers given by the state administration.
On Thursday, 6 May, 8 out of 16 pages of the Bhavnagar edition of Saurashtra Samachar, a local Gujarat newspaper, were filled with tributes for the people who had died due to COVID-19.
For most of these local newspapers, these ‘editorials’ are not limited to just one page. Instead, multiple pages are dedicated to this kind of reportage.
Newspaper Filled with Tributes
Daily condolences printed on local Gujarati newspapers are questioning the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the data provided by the government on the casualties of the virus.
As mentioned, on 6 May, Saurashtra News published tributes for 238 people, which covered eight pages, in order to highlight the difference between the real number of COVID deaths and the figures provided by the government.
On Sunday, 9 May, the newspaper published condolence messages for 195 people, a stark rise from two months ago, when the figure was just 21.
161 people died, as per the tributes published on Saturday, 8 May, even though according to official figures, only 53 patients succumbed to COVID-19 in the entire Saurashtra region, which includes 11 districts, including Bhavnagar.
Is the Government Data Inaccurate?
Through extensive ground reporting, local Gujarati newspapers have highlighted the difference between ground and government data.
Some examples of this are as follows:
According to Gujarat News, 35 bodies were cremated in Bharuch's COVID-dedicated crematorium on 8 May within seven hours. However, according to the figures of the Gujarat government, only three people died on 8 May due to COVID in Bharuch.
According to a local newspaper Sandesh, six people died of COVID in Gujarat's Gir Somnath district hospital on 8 May, while according to government statistics of the same day, only one COVID patient died in the district.
According to Sandesh, 36 coronavirus victims died in Gandhinagar on 8 May, while figures of the Gujarat government showed only two deaths.
According to Sandesh, 65 people were cremated in Bharuch's COVID-dedicated crematorium on Friday, 7 May, while according to the Gujarat government, only two patients died.
According to Sandesh, 8,286 people were cremated in the seven big cities of Gujarat- Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Surat, Baroda, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar — between 15 April and 3 May, while official data noted only 1,061 cremations.
The reports culminated in a bench of Justices Vikramnath and Bhargav Karia of the Gujarat High Court taking cognisance and telling the Gujarat administration: "The situation is very different from what you are claiming. You are saying that everything is fine while in reality, the opposite is true."
Local Newspapers Question the Government
On Sunday, 9 May, A Gujarat News headline read in Gujarati, "The Prime Minister is Busy With The 22-Thousand-Crores Central Vista Project." The subhead said, "When Indian citizens are dangling between life and deaths from COVID-19, our public servant has become a living dictator."
In another piece, a subhead stated, “Nero was playing the flute while Rome was burning, the 'fakir' is building a luxurious house of Rs 1,000 crore for himself while India burns from COVID.”
Meanwhile, Gujarat BJP President CR Patil had announced the distribution of 5,000 Remedesivir doses from the party office in Surat, while the state reeled from a shortage of the drug’s injections. On being questioned on the license of the injection stock, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said "I don't know, ask Patil."
Following this, local newspaper Divya Bhaskar printed the phone number of CR Patil on its front page on 11 April and wrote, "This number belongs to the ‘injection government’, CR Patil. If you are in need, all you have to do is call Patil, because upon being asked how he got hold of the injections, Chief Minister Rupani instructed to ask the BJP president.”
A discrepancy in the number of COVID deaths has long been witnessed in Gujarat, especially in the city of Surat. However, the Gujarat chief minister had said that he stands by the government figures released and stated that the “government is not hiding any COVID fatalities”.
As COVID-related deaths mount in the state, in order to expose the inaccuracy of government figures, some newspapers and local TV channels have even set up reporters outside crematoriums.
(With inputs from Quint Hindi)
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