There was a lot of discussion on the under-reporting of deaths during Covid-19. But, a recent survey, by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 2019-21), shows this is not unusual. About 30 per cent of deaths in India typically go unregistered, with only about 70 per cent getting registered with the civil authorities. The data captured deaths during the three years preceding the survey (as on March 31, 2017). 

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Under-reporting of deaths is higher in rural areas and in some States. While 83 per cent of urban households registered deaths, the share was just 66 per cent among rural households. About 64 per cent of deaths remained unregistered in Bihar, while more than half of the deaths in India’s biggest State, Uttar Pradesh never come on record, according to NFHS data.

The data shows that death registration is more among males (75 per cent) than females (66 per cent). The total deaths registered include 51 per cent of deaths in the age bracket of 0-4; 76 per cent of deaths of those aged between 25-34, and 75 per cent of those aged 35 and above.

Death registration increases with wealth; the highest registration is in the highest wealth quintile (87 per cent) and the lowest is in the lowest wealth quintile (52 per cent).

States with the lowest death registrationsDeath registration percentage
Bihar 36.4%
Arunachal Pradesh 36.6%
Nagaland 39.6%
Jharkhand 39.9%
Manipur 42.7%

Goa is the only State where 100 per cent of deaths were registered during the survey period. Goa is followed by Kerala, where 98 per cent of deaths were registered. Lakshadweep, Chandigarh ad Himachal Pradesh are among the States that reported more than 95 per cent of deaths.       

Reasons for deaths

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 65 per cent of all deaths in India. The major metabolic risk factors for NCDs are obesity-raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, and raised total cholesterol levels in the blood.

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The proportion of deaths that are due to non-medical reasons is higher among men (11 per cent) than women (6 per cent).

The proportion of deaths due to non-medical reasons is particularly high for men aged 15-19 and 20-29 (42 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively) and for women aged 15-19 and 20-29 (31 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively).

Registration mechanism

Following the controversy over the number of Covid-19 patients in India, the Ministry of Health and Family and Welfare stated last year that “the robustness of statute-based Civil Registration System (CRS) ensures all the births and deaths in the country get registered. The CRS follows the process of data collection, cleaning, collating and publishing the numbers, which although is a long drawn process, ensures no deaths are missed out”.