People take a dip in River Ganga during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand on April 12, 2021 (Image: AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
At least one lakh COVID-19 test reports were forged by a private agency during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, a detailed probe has found.
A preliminary investigation by the Uttarakhand Health Department suggested that a total of four lakh such COVID-19 test results could be “fake”.
Here’s all you need to know about the fake COVID-19 negative report controversy:
Fake names, addresses
A news report by The Times of India cites the 1,600-page investigation report detailing how in one instance, a single phone number was used to register more than 50 people. In another case, a single-use antigen test kit was shown to have tested 700 samples, the investigation reportedly revealed.
An investigating officer told the newspaper that in some cases, even addresses and names were found to be “fictional”.
“Almost 530 samples were taken from ‘House Number 5’ in Haridwar. Is it possible for a house to have over 500 residents? Bizarre addresses have been given — House number 56 Aligarh, House number 76 Mumbai,” the official added.
The official told the newspaper that in some instances, the same contact numbers of people spread across wide locations such as Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Kanpur were used.
Around 200 or 50 percent of the “sample collectors” employed by the agency, turned out to be students and data entry operators in Rajasthan – this even as sample collectors need to collect samples physically, the official added.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
Some of the other investigating officials told The Times of India that this could just be “the tip of the iceberg” as eight other sample collection agencies were also tasked with conducting COVID-19 tests during the Mela.
A total of nine agencies and 22 private labs together conducted four lakh tests – majority antigen tests – during the duration of the Kumbh Mela.
The alleged scam came to light after a Punjab resident, who did not visit the Kumbh, received a negative COVID-19 report on his phone from the Haridwar Health Department. The person filed a complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who then alerted authorities in Uttarakhand.
According to the report, each agency was paid Rs 350 per antigen test.
Moneycontrol could not independently verify the news report.
A senior seer died due to COVID-19 and several others had tested positive for the infectious disease after attending the religious congregation. Images and footage from the Kumbh Mela showed thousands of pilgrims congregating for the event and could be seen ignoring COVID-19 norms.
Thousands of people were found positive for COVID-19 in Haridwar -- the place where the Mela was held. Many tested positive after returning to their hometowns across the country in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic.Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here