A detailed investigation has found that at least 1 lakh COVID-19 test reports issued during the Kumbh Mela in April this year were forged by a private agency, reported The Times of India.
The report comes days after a probe ordered by the Uttarakhand Health Department had suggested that nearly four lakh COVID-19 test results, majority being antigen tests, issued by nine agencies and 22 private labs during the mela in Haridwar were fake.
Highlighting one such incident, the TOI report noted that “a single phone number was used to register over 50 people while one antigen test kit (which has an exclusive number and is meant for single use) was shown to have tested 700 samples”.
The agency conducted 1 lakh tests, of which only 177 were COVID-19 positive. This means that the positivity rate was only 0.18%, as opposed to the government recorded rate in April which went upto 10%. The investigation report also noted that “the agency was paid Rs 350 per antigen test and higher for RT-PCR tests” which indicates that the scam may run into crores.
In another instance, the report added, an investigating officer told TOI that around 530 samples were taken from one house in Haridwar. This would effectively mean that one house had over 500 residents. Not only that, the investigating officer also highlighted that bizarre addresses were recorded at the time of sample collection by the private lab.
Further, it has also revealed that even the phone numbers recorded were fake. The same phone number was reportedly used by people in Kanpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and 18 other locations.
According Dr Arjun Singh Sengar, Kumbh Mela health officer, the agency under the scanner was required to submit the collected samples to two private labs which are also under investigation currently.
Interestingly, over 200 workers employed by the agency to collect samples were students and data entry operators based in Rajasthan and had never been to Haridwar, the investigation revealed. “A sample collector has to be physically present to collect samples. When we contacted the sample collectors registered with the agency, we found 50% of them were residents of Rajasthan, many were students or data entry operators,” TOI quoted an official as saying.
Also read: COVID-19: Maha Kumbh ‘Single Largest Super Spreader Event’ Raising Virus Footprint Across India
The investigation report mentioned that one of the sample collectors was “enrolled in a skill development training programme at a government authorised centre in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh”. The data he uploaded was given to him by his instructor who had said that it was part of his training, the student alleged.
While investigating officials have termed this investigation as “just the tip of the iceberg”, with several private labs under the scanner, administration officials have assured of strict action against the involved parties.
Uttarakhand health secretary Amit Negi told TOI that, “Several irregularities have been found. We will take action after receiving a detailed report from the DM in 15 days.”
It has also been reported that the pending payment of all agencies has been put on hold until further notice as it is under investigation.
After drawing flak from the public for allowing the crowd pulling event amid a pandemic, the state government had been directed by the high court to carry out at least 50,000 tests daily during Kumbh. While several private agencies and labs were roped in for the same, the state department also conducted its own tests through government labs.
The issue of fake reports emerged earlier this week,when a resident of Punjab, who had not been visited Haridwar, received an SMS from the Haridwar health department saying he had tested negative for COVID-19. The man reported the matter to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) through email alleging that his Aadhaar and mobile number had been misused for a fake test, according to the Indian Express.