Kumbh Mela 2021: Uttarakhand Police forms SIT to probe fake COVID-19 testing scam; key points

The Uttarakhand Police has set up a special investigation team to probe allegations that fake Covid tests were conducted during the Haridwar Kumbh Mela.

One of the world’s largest religious gatherings, the Kumbh was held in the state from April 1 to 30, and the notified area for the congregation covered various places in Haridwar, Dehradun and Tehri districts.

The special investigation team (SIT) was constituted by Haridwar Senior Superintendent of Police Senthil Avoodai Krishna Raj S on Friday, a day after a case was registered against Max Corporate Service and private laboratories Dr Lalchandani Lab and Nalwa Laboratories for allegedly conducting the fake Covid tests during the Kumbh.

The SIT has been constituted for a speedy probe, Krishna Raj said.

Max Corporate Service and the two other labs have been booked under the Epidemic Act , the Disaster Management Act besides sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.

What are the allegations?

A private agency is accused of having forged about 1 lakh COVID-19 test results during the congregation, as per media reports. The probe has found that in one instance, a single phone number was used to register over 50 people, as reported by The Times of India. One antigen kit was also shown to have tested about 700 samples, although the kits have an exclusive number and are meant for single use.

The controversy arose after the ICMR flagged the case of a Punjab resident to a senior health department officer in Uttarakhand. A report in The Indian Express quoted sources as saying that the person, who was in Punjab during the Kumbh period, received an SMS that his sample had been collected for a test. He alleged that his Aadhaar and mobile number had been misused for a fake test.

What is the state government’s stand on this?

Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has said the fake COVID-19 testing scam dates back to before his term, while his predecessor Trivendra Singh Rawat demanded a judicial probe into it.

“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,” Tirath Singh Rawat told reporters here on the sidelines of a programme on Thursday. Tirath Singh Rawat became the chief minister of the state on 10 March while the Kumbh Mela was held from 1 to 30 April.

He said that the decision to rope in private firms to conduct COVID-19 tests during the Kumbh Mela was taken before he took over as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. However, he expressed the state government’s resolve to bring out the truth and punish the guilty.

Meanwhile, his predecessor Trivendra Singh Rawat has demanded an impartial probe into the scam by a high court judge, terming the scam serious in nature.

When did the matter come to light?

The matter had come to light after a man complained to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that he received a message on his mobile phone about his test report coming negative at the Kumbh even though he had not given a sample for it.

After receiving the complaint from the ICMR, the Uttarakhand government asked the Haridwar district magistrate to investigate the matter and a three-member panel was constituted for it.Preliminary investigations revealed that many private labs roped in by the district Health Department issued fake Covid test reports in the name of random people on the basis of their identity cards and phone numbers.It is suspected that more than one lakh such test results had been issued by the private labs, sources in the department had told PTI.

What could be the fallout?

Payment to all labs which had been assigned the responsibility of conducting tests —RT-PCR and rapid antigen — during the Kumbh has been withheld for the time being due to the ongoing investigation, Haridwar District Magistrate C Ravishankar has said.

Haridwar’s Chief Medical Officer, SK Jha, was quoted as saying by PTI, “The Kumbh area extends up to Rishikesh. Until the probe ordered by the district administration is complete it is difficult to say at what level the alleged irregularities were committed.”

Thus, it remains to be seen as to who will be held responsible for the alleged fake test results, and whether any criminal action will follow.

With inputs from PTI

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