India's excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country. Most experts believe India's official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading, the AP reports. The report released Tuesday estimated excess deaths—the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected—to be 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. That would outpace deaths during the Partition of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 that led to the killing of up to 1 million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other.
The report said an accurate figure may "prove elusive" but the true death toll "is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count." The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s former chief economic adviser, and two other researchers at the Center for Global Development and Harvard University. It said the official count could have missed deaths that occurred in overwhelmed hospitals or while health care was disrupted, particularly during the devastating virus surge earlier this year. Researchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality in previous years—a method widely considered an accurate metric. (Read more India stories.)