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India saw 81.2 lakh deaths in 2020, up 6% over last pre-Covid year 2019, CRS data shows

CRS data for 2020 released by health ministry Tuesday. It comes amid a tussle between WHO and government over exact figure of deaths in India during Covid pandemic.

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New Delhi: Compared to 2019, the number of deaths registered in India witnessed an increase of 6 per cent in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic (2020), according to Civil Registration System (CRS) data. The number rose to 81.2 lakh in 2020, from 76.4 lakh in 2019.

India’s CRS is the unified process of continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of births, deaths and stillbirths.

The CRS data for 2020 was released by the Union Health & Family Welfare Ministry (MoHFW) Tuesday, and comes amid a tussle between the WHO and the government over the exact figure of deaths in India during the Covid pandemic.

New Delhi has contested the world body’s estimate about the Covid-19 toll in India being much higher than the official toll of 5,23,889.

In an official communication to the WHO, the health ministry had urged it to shun its modelling approach for estimating deaths and wait instead for the CRS data, which it said would be a more authentic source of deaths registered in the country.

Also important to mention here is that the WHO’s estimate takes into account estimates of deaths registered in India in 2020 and 2021, while the scope of the CRS data released by the government is limited to 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted periodic training of staff and inspection of registration units in many states, including Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.

Telangana admitted that the pandemic led to some underreporting, which was further exacerbated by the shortage of staff at local levels. Uttar Pradesh, too, reported that its medical staff faced many difficulties in recording births and deaths during the pandemic.

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60% males among total deaths

Males accounted for 60.2 per cent of the total registered deaths in 2020 and women the remaining 39.8 per cent. All such deaths need to be registered within 21 days.

While provisions allow for the birth of an Indian citizen to be registered even if it has occurred outside the country, there is no provision to record the death of an Indian citizen if it has happened abroad.

According to the CRS data, 11 states/UTs registered more than 90 per cent of the deaths that occurred there in the first year of the pandemic: Punjab, Chandigarh, Mizoram, Haryana, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat.

Similarly, seven states/UTs registered between 80 and 90 per cent of the deaths that occurred during this period: Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Odisha, Goa, Lakshadweep, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.

Meanwhile, the registration of deaths was more than 50 per cent but less than 80 per cent in seven states during the same period: Bihar, Tripura, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Telangana, Kerala and Jharkhand.

In eight other states/UTs — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, Ladakh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh — 50 per cent or less of deaths that occurred during this period were registered with local authorities within 21 days.

More infant deaths in urban areas

Compared to 2.48 crore in 2019, the number of births registered in India declined to 2.42 crore in 2020, according to the CRS data. Of these, 73.7 per cent were classified as institutional births, which are associated with better postnatal care, immunisation coverage and nutritional levels.

Based on the registration data, Manipur (880) reported the lowest sex ratio at birth in 2020, followed by Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu (898), and Gujarat (909).

Ladakh (11,04) reported the highest sex ratio at birth that same year, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (1,101), A&N Islands (984), Tripura (974), and Kerala (969).

A key takeaway from the CRS report was that it found how, compared to rural areas, urban areas recorded a higher percentage of infant deaths.

“It may be observed that the share of rural areas is only 23.4 per cent while that of urban areas is 76.6 per cent in total registered infant deaths during the year,” the report read. “Non-registration of infant deaths in rural areas is a cause of concern which may be due to non-reporting of infant deaths to the registrars, especially in case of domiciliary events.”

A similar pattern was seen in the case of registered stillbirths with rural areas accounting for 40.8 per cent and urban areas 57.9 per cent of them.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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