People take a dip in River Ganga during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand on April 12, 2021 (Image: AP Photo/Karma Sonam)
A detailed investigation into COVID-19 test results issued during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar has found that at least 1 lakh test reports were forged by a private agency, The Times of India reported.
Earlier, a preliminary probe by the Uttarakhand Health Department pegged as many as four lakh COVID-19 test results as “fake”.
The 1,600 page investigation report, details how in one instance a single phone number was used to register more than 50 people, while in another instance a single-use antigen test kit was shown to have tested 700 samples, the paper said.
An official from the investigation told the paper that even addresses and names were found to be “fictional”. Adding: “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.”
Moneycontrol could not independently verify the report.
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Further explaining that phone numbers were also fake, the official shared that people from across locations such as Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Kanpur shared the same phone number.
Dr Arjun Singh Sengar, health officer of the Kumbh Mela said the agency was supposed to submit samples to two private labs, who are now also under investigation.
Health secretary Amit Negi said the report found “several irregularities” and that it has been forwarded to the Haridwar District Magistrate and action will be taken within 15 days after the DM responds.
On his part, Haridwar DM C Ravishankar said the matter is “being investigated and pending payment of all agencies has been put on hold until further notice”.
Among other discrepancies found include that 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.
Other officials have warned that “this is just the tip of the iceberg” as another eight sample collection agencies were also tasked with conducting COVID-19 tests during the Mela.
The nine agencies and 22 private labs collectively conducted 4 lakh tests – majority antigen tests – during the Kumbh Mela period.
The scam came to light after a Punjab resident who did not visit the Kumbh Mela but received a negative COVID-19 report on his phone from the Haridwar health department, filed a complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who then alerted Uttarakhand authorities.
The report noted that each agency was paid Rs 350 per antigen test, which well places the scammed amount into crores.For full coverage on the coronavirus pandemic click here