HARIDWAR/DEHRADUN: Just days after a preliminary probe by the Uttarakhand health department suggested that many of the four lakh Covid test results issued during the Kumbh festival in Haridwar were fake, a detailed investigation — running into 1,600 pages and accessed by TOI — has found that at least 1 lakh test reports were forged by a private agency.
In one instance, 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. “Addresses and names were 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,” an official who is part of the investigation told TOI.
The official added, “Phone numbers were fake too. People in Kanpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and 18 other locations shared the same phone number.”
Kumbh Mela health officer Dr Arjun Singh Sengar told TOI, “The agency was supposed to submit the samples to two private labs. The labs are also under investigation.”
According to health secretary Amit Negi, the investigation report has been forwarded to the Haridwar DM. “Several irregularities have been found. We will take action after receiving a detailed report from the DM in 15 days,” said Negi.
Haridwar district magistrate C Ravishnkar said he was investigating the matter and pending payment of all agencies has been put on hold until further notice.
The 200 sample collectors employed by the agency turned out to be students and data entry operators in Rajasthan, who had never been to Haridwar. “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,” said an official.
“One sample collector was someone enrolled in a skill development training programme at a government authorised centre in Hanumangarh (Rajasthan). Upon inquiry, he told us that he had never been to Kumbh. He said he had been given the data by his instructor who had asked him to upload it as part of his training,” according to the investigation report.
According to officials, this is “just the tip of the iceberg” since eight more sample collection agencies were tasked to conduct tests by the state government after the high court directed Uttarakhand to carry out at least 50,000 tests daily during Kumbh. The festival was held from April 1 to 30 in Haridwar. The four lakh tests in this period were conducted by nine agencies and 22 private labs. Majority of these tests were antigen tests. The state department also conducted its own tests through government labs.
Of the 1 lakh tests conducted by the agency under scanner, 177 were “Covid positive” — a positivity rate of only 0.18%. In contrast, the positivity rate in Haridwar in April went upto 10%. The scam came to light earlier this week after a Punjab-based man — who had not visited Kumbh— received a Covid-negative report on his phone from the Haridwar health department. He filed a complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research, which alerted the state authorities. The agency was paid Rs 350 per antigen test and higher for RT-PCR tests, which means the scam runs into crores. Test results by other agencies are also being probed now, said a health department official.