New data released Tuesday by the office of the Registrar General showed that 81.16 lakh deaths were registered in the country in 2020, about six per cent higher than the previous year’s number, which is consistent with the recent trend of increasing registrations of births and deaths in the country.
Data from the civil registration system (CRS) showed that while the number of registered births in 2020 had declined from 2.48 crore in 2019 to 2.42 crore, the death registrations had increased from 76.41 lakh in 2019 to 81.16 lakh now.
These are not the actual number of births and deaths in India in 2020, but only those births and deaths which got registered. Registration of births and deaths have been steadily increasing in recent years. The registration of deaths, in particular, has seen a sharp jump in the last three years. In 2019, for example, 92 per of all deaths had been registered, a significant increase from 79 per cent registrations just two years earlier (2017). Almost 95 per cent of all births are now registered.
The actual number of births and deaths in India is estimated through a separate survey-based process known as Sample Registration System, or SRS. In 2019, for example, 83.01 lakh people were estimated to have died in India, of which 76.41 lakh deaths, or 92 per cent, got registered in the civil registration system. The SRS data for 2020 is still not available, because of which the percentage of registration in 2020 is not known as of now.
There is keen interest in the death numbers of 2020 because of the large number of deaths caused by Covid-19. According to official figures, about 1.49 lakh people had died due to Covid-19 in 2020. As of now, over 5.23 lakh people are known to have died because of Covid-19.
The CRS figures released Tuesday do not say anything about Covid-19 deaths. They only talk about the total number of registered all-cause deaths in the year. These numbers, on their own, do not throw any light on the actual number of Covid-19 deaths in the country.
Still, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr VK Paul said the CRS data was an indication that the actual number of Covid-19 deaths in the country in 2020 was probably not vastly different from the official toll.
“This data does not attribute the cause of death, but of course the 4.74 lakh excess (registered) deaths (compared to the previous year) will include Covid-19 deaths as well. There may be some more deaths due to Covid-19 as compared to the reported numbers but now we have the actual count of deaths from 2020. This is the total envelop within which you are talking of excess mortality and, therefore, the Covid-19 toll cannot be in some exorbitant multiple,” Paul said.
He said the increase in registered deaths could be because of several reasons.
“Firstly, the excess deaths recorded in 2020 in the report are all-cause mortality and not just because of the new disease. Second, our population between the two years is higher by 1.6 crore and hence the higher number of deaths. Third, the registration of death has become easy, people are more aware, they need the certificates for bank accounts and property settlements, so there is an increasing trend of registrations and that also has to be accounted for,” he said.