An investigation into the RT-PCR test scam that surfaced during the Haridwar Kumbh Mela in 2021 has already begun calling all mobile phone numbers associated with the nearly 1 lakh RT-PCR tests that are alleged to be fake. Investigating teams are calling each number to determine whether the person using it attended the Kumbh Mela in the first place, as well as collecting other evidence related to this scam. The Uttarakhand government has assembled an eight-member team that is dialing these numbers one by one and verifying them. Sources state that the team has already collected several pieces of evidence and is continuing its investigation.
Uttarakhand authorized 11 private companies to take RT-PCR tests of people attending the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. The aim was to detect Covid-19 cases in the Kumbh Mela area and prevent the viral infection from spreading. One of these 11 companies was Max Corporate Services, which then hired Nalwa Labs and Dr. Lalchandani Labs to conduct RT-PCR tests. Over 1 lakh tests conducted by these labs are under scrutiny. According to the investigation so far, no physical tests were performed on the 1 lakh RT-PCR tests. As a result, lakhs of people who attended the Kumbh Mela risked their lives.
The Haridwar District Magistrate (DM) C Ravishankar has directed that labs conducting RT-PCR tests must record specific information about each person whose samples are being collected. In spite of this, private labs flouted norms and resorted to illegal means to display an inflated number of tests conducted by them. An investigation team consisting of three members has already been formed by the DM, and this is ongoing. Additionally, the state government has formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate this case.
Haridwar Kumbh RT-PCR test scam was first exposed when Vipin Mittal, a resident of Faridkot (in Punjab), contacted the Uttarakhand health secretary to report receiving an RT-PCR report from Haridwar despite not attending the event.
In response, the health secretary ordered the Haridwar DM to investigate the matter. The DM formed a committee to investigate this, and it was during this investigation that the story of the 1 lakh fake RT-PCR tests was revealed. The Haridwar Kumbh RT-PCR test scam made national headlines soon after.
Upon receiving the preliminary investigation findings, which indicated fraud by the private labs, the district magistrate decided to file a case against them. Police filed a case on June 17 after receiving a complaint from Dr. SK Jha, the Chief Medical Officer of Haridwar.
The three firms are accused of:
- Fraudulently conducting RT-PCR tests during the Haridwar Kumbh Mela
- Creating fake reports for even persons not attending the Kumbh Mela and submitting them to the administration
- Performing hundreds of tests at one location
- Using the same mobile number to register several people
The investigation into the Haridwar Kumbh RT-PCR test scam is being conducted at two levels: (1) the district administration and (2) the Kumbh Mela administration. The investigation ordered by the district administration is being led by Haridwar Chief Development Officer Saurabh Gaharwar, while that ordered by the Kumbh Mela administration is being led by a senior health official leading a five-member team.
An investigation conducted by the district administration found evidence that the three private labs used fraudulent methods. As soon as Max Corporate Services received approval to outsource RT-PCR testing, it contracted with Dr. Lalchandani Labs and Nalwa Labs. In addition, Nalwa Labs further outsourced the work to a company called Dolifia, even though the latter does not have a license to conduct RT-PCR tests.
In the investigation conducted by the district administration, 1,04,796 samples were submitted by these companies between April 13 and May 16. 95,102 samples were uploaded to the online portal. It has been alleged that these companies prepared fake test reports to maximize their profits. According to these companies, 3,925 samples were collected in Haridwar’s Nepali Farm area. In all cases, mobile phones were used to register these samples.
Due to the scale and gravity of the matter, the Uttarakhand SIT (Special Investigation Team) has also begun its investigation. DGP Ashok Kumar oversees this team directly. Three private labs have been notified and summoned by the SIT for questioning. The agency has also sent notices to other individuals who are linked to this case, investigated documents related to the scam and questioned officials involved.
Max Corporate Services has also been accused of tampering with documents related to its application to conduct RT-PCR tests, in addition to conducting nearly one lakh fake RT-PCR tests. According to sources, Max Corporate Services got approval to conduct RT-PCR tests on March 12, 2021, based on its application. There is an overwriting of the date mentioned in the permission, which has been changed to January 12, 2021. At the Kumbh Mela, the document was signed by the officer responsible for health services. Under his signature is a scribbled date.
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A STATEMENT FROM THESE LABS
Max Corporate Services and Dr. Lalchandani Labs have challenged the FIR filed against them in the Uttarakhand High Court. In its plea, Max Corporate Services argued that the charges of fraud it faces are without merit. Kartikey Hari Gupta, its counsel, said Nalwa Labs and Dr. Lalchandani Labs are both testing facilities that have been certified by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).
‘The company has nothing to do with this fraud. It is just a service provider. It provided services only to the two companies that conducted the tests,’ he said, adding that even Max wants the truth to come out. All samples were collected and entered by capable government officials, Gupta argued, pleading the court to protect his client from government retaliation. He told the court, ‘We will provide all the assistance we can in the investigation’.
Max Corporate Services assigned it the task of conducting RT-PCR tests at the Kumbh Mela, and that it conducted the tests according to protocol. ‘ICMR-certified, we hold all laboratory tests records. We are able to provide them to the patient’,it stated