On April 22, Vipan Mittal — an LIC specialist in Punjab’s Faridkot — was shocked to get an instant message on his cellphone regarding his Covid test report. The issue was, Mittal had not given any swabs for testing. Thinking that his personal information was taken and abused, Mittal set out on a quest for answers that would uncover what many are currently calling the country’s biggest fake Covid tests scam.
“My Covid-19 report said I was negative, but I hadn’t got tested. 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 media.
The top body reacted that it would investigate the matter. Yet, when Mittal actually hadn’t heard from them in a week, he registered a Right To Information (RTI) application, looking for details of the lab that had led his “test”.
The ICMR investigated the case and found that Mittal’s swabs had been “collected and tested in Haridwar”. It sent Mittal’s objection to the Uttarakhand health department. A thorough investigation — running into 1,600 pages and got to by media on Monday—uncovered that Mittal’s was only one among one lakh Covid test reports that were produced by a Haryana-based office.
The “tests” were evidently conducted between April 1 and 30 during the Kumbh mela after the Uttarakhand high court asked the state to conduct at least 50,000 every day tests in Haridwar. The investigation found that names and addresses were fake. Many people had a similar phone number and antigen test units implied for one-time use. Residents and students of Rajasthan who had never been to Kumbh were collecting samples. The state had led a sum of four lakh tests in Haridwar during the mela period with the assistance of eight sample collection agencies. Different agencies are likewise under surveillance now.
“When I made the complaint, I didn’t expect that the scam was at this scale. I don’t think anyone could have expected this,” said Mittal. He, however, added that while the spotlight is on fake Covid reports, he will continue seeking answers for theft of his data. “How did the agency get my personal details? I still don’t know,” Mittal said.
At the point when gotten some information about the fake test reports, joint secretary, health ministry, Lav Agarwal, said, “The state was proactive in calling sample collection agencies through its control room to conduct a preliminary inquiry. A week ago, the Haridwar district magistrate was asked to submit an action-taken report to find those involved.”
Agarwal said that the “exact number of fake tests would be determined after inquiry has ended.” He said he had addressed the state’s health secretary and the inquiry report is probably going to be submitted in a week or something like that. “Those involved will be held responsible and criminal action taken wherever required,” he said.
Specialists, in the interim, said this was likely the “largest scam in Covid testing in the country” and added that the low positivity rate in Haridwar ought to have raised doubts. “The extraordinarily low positivity rate in Haridwar district during the course of the Kumbh mela was questionable. But authorities turned a blind eye,” said Anoop Nautiyal, individual from Social Development for Communities Foundation, an association closely following the Covid-19 situation in Uttarakhand.
In April, the positivity rate in Haridwar was 2.8% on average, while the positivity rate in other 12 areas was 14.2% by and large.
“We have been asking for all Covid-related data from the Kumbh mela area to be made public. But we never got a clear picture. We demand that an independent agency should probe the scam” Nautiyal said.