This year’s winner of the Prem Bhatia award for political reporting is different from our usual tradition. We honour not an individual journalist but the outstanding team efforts of the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper in investigating the extent of deaths in India due to the Covid pandemic and exposing the grossly unrealistic official mortality figures. Dainik Bhaskar carried out a series of remarkable. Investigative reports from the ground in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh comprise over half of India’s population in April and May 2021, when the pandemic was at its peak.
As part of this extensive, thorough and meticulously carried out journalistic endeavour, the reporters visited hundreds of crematoria and ghats. They interacted with local authorities, hospital staff and collected information on death certificates to uncover the extent of the mortality figures. It was clear that there was a huge disparity between the actual and the officially reported deaths because of the disease. For instance, one report highlighted that in Bhopal, the authorities claimed only four deaths due to Corona, whereas 112 funerals were conducted as per Covid protocol on April 16, 2021, alone. In Gujarat, the official death tally was 4218, although 1,23,000 death certificates were issued in just 71 days.
Among the on-the-spot heart rendering articles which drew much attention, both nationally and globally, were the descriptive first person accounts and telling photographs from the banks of the holy Ganga, where many unclaimed corpses were found floating on the river. The courageous publication staff risked their own well being and took arduous journeys to inaccessible places, often by foot, to report back on the plight of families attempting desperately to give their loved ones a respectful farewell amidst the mounting number of deaths. The journalists were truly committed to Dainik Bhaskar’s proud motto, “Kendra Mein Pathak’’.