Bodies are piling up at crematoriums and burial grounds in Madhya Pradesh, reflecting a steep rise in Covid cases, but there seems to be an unexplained gap between the official daily death count released by the state government and the ground reality.
At the Bhadbhada crematorium in Bhopal, people say they have not witnessed such scenes since the 1984 Bhopal Gas tragedy.
BN Pandey, 54, who came to perform the funeral of his brother, said on Tuesday: "During the gas tragedy, when I was in Class 9, we saw such scenes. Today just in four hours I have seen 30-40 dead bodies here."
Ambulances could be seen lining up with bodies as many waited on the roadside for their turn to perform funerals, looking for space to set up pyres.
Santosh Raguvanshi, who had come to cremate his brother-in-law, said he had been waiting for three-four hours. "We can't perform the last rites as there is no space."
There were 37 bodies (of people who died of Covid) at Bhadbhada crematorium in Bhopal on Monday. However, the health bulletin for the day mentioned a total of 37 Covid deaths in the entire state.
The death figures for the last five days are also inconsistent.
On April 8, 41 bodies were cremated in Bhopal under COVID-19 protocol but the medical bulletin reported 27 deaths in the entire state. On April 9, 35 bodies were cremated in Bhopal, yet the official data said there were 23 Covid-related deaths in the entire state.
On April 10, 56 bodies were cremated in Bhopal but the government data claimed 24 had died of coronavirus across the state. On April 11, 68 bodies were cremated in the city and the government reported a total of 24 deaths in the state. On April 12, 59 bodies were cremated in the city, while the official bulletin stated 37 deaths across the state.
The government denied under-reporting the death count.
"The government has no intention of hiding the death count, we will not get any award by doing so," said Medical Education Minister Vishwas Sarang.
Crematorium workers are struggling with the daily pressure. Their problems range from running out of wood to blisters on their hands.
Rais Khan, a worker at the Bhopal crematorium, said they have been sawing 100-150 quintals of wood every day. Last week the wood fell short as 40-45 bodies were coming in every day.
Pradeep Kanojia, another worker, said: "I am feeling weak, getting tired... too many dead bodies are coming in and it is crowded here. We can't even take a break for lunch.."
Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday recorded its highest single-day spike in COVID-19 infections with 8,998 cases, taking the state's tally to 3,53,632, an official said. The day also saw 40 deaths, taking the count to 4,261, according to official data.