When Life Insurance Corporation agent Vipan Mittal got a negative COVID-19 test report via an SMS, he was surprised - he had not gotten tested in the first place. After several rounds of enquiry and an RTI addressed to the Indian Council of Medical Research, Mittal found out that he was one of many cases of fake tests conducted by a lab in Haridwar.
"My COVID-19 report said I was negative, but I hadn't taken the test. I went to local district authorities, but I was told to go away. Health department officials were also not interested in finding out what was going on. As a last resort, I filed an email complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)," Mittal told Times of India on June 15.
Thus unearthed one of the biggest fake COVID-19 testing rackets, which allegedly took place during the Kumbh Mela this year, after a court order to carry out at least 50,000 tests a day in Haridwar, according to a probe report.
The key event of Kumbh, the shahi snan, took place between March 11 and April 27. Meanwhile, in March 2021, COVID-19 cases began rising swiftly across the country, as the second wave of the pandemic took over. By April, India was reporting the highest number of daily cases, rising over 4 lakh recorded infections per day. The Kumbh Mela event, along with numerous political rallies held for the five-state elections, were deemed to be super-spreader events that led way to the massive toll of cases and deaths that followed.
Times of India's report also stated that Singh, and many others who had received such RT-PCR test reports without getting the test done, have gotten a negative result.
State Sets Up SIT Probe
The Special Investigation Team set up by the state has sent notice to three labs - Max Corporate Service New Delhi, Nalwa Laboratories Pvt Ltd of Haryana, and Dr Lalchandani Lab, for questioning. The labs have been given four days to provide their statements before the SIT.
Throughout the past weekend, Kumbh Mela Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Arun Singh Sengar has been questioned by the SIT CMO Dr. S N Jha.
According to ANI, the Haridwar District Magistrate directed the SIT to investigate whether the private labs engaged by the state had been approved by ICMR before their empanelment.
"The matter was being investigated on the district administration level and on Dehradun level as well. In the district-level probe, many inconsistencies have been found in the COVID test reports during Mahakumbh. In this connection, a case has been lodged against Max corporate agency and two private labs," Haridwar DM C Ravi Shankar told ANI.
He further informed ANI that over 1 lakh test results were produced by a single lab, which was found to be unrealistic, and that several discrepancies with data entry were also detected.
Former CM Demands Judicial Probe
Soon after the issue surfaced in the media, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat said that the 'scam' preceded his term as CM.
"The scam is old. I took over in March. However, a probe has already been ordered into it and stern action will be taken against those involved," he told reporters in Dehradun last Thursday.
Later that day, former Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat urged that an judicial probe be launched for impartiality. Speaking to The Sunday Express, he said, "Often people doubt the transparency of state agencies in inquiries. SITs have done good work in the past but this issue has now become high-profile after it was said that it is from the previous tenure. So I say that people may have an apprehension that the inquiry can be influenced."
Tirath Singh Rawat had taken over the position of CM on March 10, after his predecessor resigned.
In May, an investigation by The Caravan revealed that Rawat may have been fired overnight by the Bharatiya Janata Party, for insisting that the 2021 Mahakumbh be restricted, in light of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
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