Last Friday too, the state said the number of deaths was 23 when the high court was hearing eight petitions or PILs on dengue. But a petitioner put the state in a spot when his lawyer produced four death certificates from state hospitals stating dengue as the cause, names inexplicably missing from the state list.
On Friday, the Advocate General said only one of the four cases was dengue. The court did not hide its disquiet. A division bench of Acting Chief Justice J Bhattacharya and Justice Arijit Banerjee said dengue is occurring every year despite the state's claim it was adhering to central government and World Health Organisation guidelines for its control.
"This shows that more steps need to be taken as these seem to be inadequate to control the disease in West Bengal," the bench observed.
To a plea by the state Advocate General Kishore Dutta that petitions were based on newspaper reports only and not independent research, the bench said, "Writ petitioners would not have had to come to the court if you on your own conducted research for further steps to deal with the issue."
"We want to satisfy our judicial conscience that sufficient steps are being taken," the bench said when the AG questioned maintainability of the petitions. The advocate did not say which of the four unaccounted dengue deaths was genuine.
NDTV met the family of one of the four -- Suman Dey, 35, who died on November 12 at the state-run Calcutta Medical College Hospital. His certificate of death clearly says he died of dengue. By every government yardstick, Mr Dey is a dengue victim. But his family is not surprised his name was missing from the state's list on dengue deaths.
"Clearly, there is some lapse. Doctors must be under government pressure. Because, after Suman died, a nurse told us they won't write dengue as cause of death. If they did, the nurse said they could lose their job. But I said I will not remove the body if you don't write the truth," said Krishnapada Dey, Mr Suman's brother-in-law.
The state also gave the court a list of 22 people who died in private hospitals of dengue, according to those clinics. The state will not add that number to its list of dengue deaths till it verifies the cause at its own laboratories.
The state government last updated the number of dengue deaths on the Union Health Ministry's website on October 4, which showed total deaths as 19. The Directorate of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, under the Health Ministry, works for prevention and control of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.
The lawyer-petitioner duo who traced the four death certificates in the government list have alleged that the state is trying to "supress facts". "There is clearly an attempt to suppress facts. The documents the state submitted to court are not accurate. The death certificates we submitted prove they are false," said lawyer Subhashish Chakraborty.
"Not saying the state is causing dengue. But why is the state so secretive? Is it trying to hide its failure to follow WHO guidelines to prevent dengue?" he added.
Deborshi Chakraborty, a research scholar who accessed some of the controversial death certificates, said, "More people are coming forward with death certificates that prove discrepancy between fact and fiction."
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also West Bengal Health Minister, has not given a statement on dengue deaths for weeks. Health officials who are familiar with the matter say they cannot comment since the court is hearing the petitions.
Though the opposition has been protesting in the state assembly for two days now, the Trinamool Congress government has not responded to them.