The number of “excess deaths” registered by the Civil Registration System (CRS) in Karnataka ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit (from April 2020 to May 2021), was 1,67,788, which is 5.8 times the official reported figure of 29,090 deaths for the same period.
This high number was largely due to the deaths registered in April 2021 (46,000) and May 2021 (77,000 and still being reconciled). In this period, which coincided with the second COVID-19 wave, the excess deaths were around 53,728, compared to the registered COVID-19 tally of 16,523, leading to an undercount factor of 3.25. The overall COVID-19 tally in Karnataka as of June 19 is 33,763.
Excess deaths in Karnataka were calculated based on the month-wise number of deaths registered by the Civil Registration System (provisional figures) from January 2015 to May 2021, which were accessed by The Hindu .
The undercount factor (5.8) and excess deaths for Karnataka (1,67,788) were comparable and similar to that of Tamil Nadu (6.2 and 1,51,408 respectively). For 2021 alone, the undercount factors for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were 4.7 and 6.5, which is much lower than those for Madhya Pradesh (42) and Andhra Pradesh (34) respectively.
Lower in Bengaluru
The Hindu also accessed the corresponding CRS figures for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike-BBMP (the Greater Bengaluru metropolitan area). The CRS registered 40,264 and 75,441 deaths (till May) in 2020 and 2021 respectively in the area, which accounted for 31,029 estimated excess deaths, compared to the baseline mortality of the pre-pandemic period (2015-2019).
However, the BBMP’s official COVID-19 tally till May 2021 was only 13,296. This adds up to an undercount factor in the city limits of 2.33, which is lower than that of Chennai (5.6). Other cities such as Hyderabad (17.5-30.5) and Kolkata (4.5) also registered higher undercounts for 2021 alone.
With officials of the Statistics Department tight lipped after oral gag orders from seniors, COVID-19 specific death reporting from districts has become inaccessible in the Karnataka. Though officially denied, the reconciliation exercise is underway in several districts and indicates a much higher toll than reported earlier. For example, last week, the official COVID-19 death toll in Mysuru, which was counted at 1,910, was revised to 3,300 after reconciliation.
Officials admit that even the numbers available in the CRS data is only provisional as reporting of death has always been slow in rural areas. The pandemic has also resulted in inefficient data collection across 35,000 births and deaths registration centres in the State.
With Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announcing ₹1 lakh to BPL families that have reported a COVID-19 death, the number of deaths being reported is going up, officials said. The Chief Minister has indicated that the State is estimated to spend between ₹250- ₹300 crore on the relief scheme which is expected to benefit between 25,000 and 30,000 families. Irrespective of the number of deaths, each such BPL family will receive ₹1 lakh.
“Normally, rural areas do not report death immediately. Delayed registration has been a norm,” Mr Yediyurappa said recently. He pointed out that in 2019, of the total 5.08 lakh deaths reported, as many as 1.67 lakh deaths, including 1.01 lakh reported in rural areas, were delayed registration.
While the figures are provisional, and officials are expecting reconciliation of numbers in the coming weeks or months, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1969 and the Karnataka Registration of Births and Death Rules 1970 (subsequently amended in 1999), mandate reporting of deaths within 21 days. Under various other provisions, however, deaths can be reported beyond 21 days. Even after a year, the death can be registered through an order of a First Class Judicial Magistrate.
Attempts to seek a response on the issue of excess deaths from Additional Chief Secretary Planning and Statistics Shalini Rajineesh failed.
(With inputs and graphics from Vignesh Radhakrishnan)