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Kolkata’s Vaccine Scam That Didn’t Spare Even Trinamool MP

The accused allegedly administered the ‘free shots’ on at least 472 people at the fake vaccination camps.

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Kolkata Police on Wednesday, 23 June, arrested a 28-year-old man, Debanjan Deb, for allegedly posing as an IAS officer and the joint commissioner of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and organising a fake COVID-19 vaccination camp in the city’s Kasba area where Trinamool Congress MP Mimi Chakraborty had also got her jab.

Deb may now be charged with attempt to murder. The Kolkata Police will appeal to court today to add Section 307 to the list of charges.

The accused allegedly administered the vaccine shots on at least 472 people at these camps free of charge.

However, a probe by the police revealed that all the administered doses were fake. The vials with ‘Covishied’ and ‘Covaxin’ labels were actually of Amikacin injections, an antibiotic.

According to the police, Deb had organised camps in prominent areas in south and north Kolkata, which included a KMC-run market in Kasba and the government-aided City College on Amherst Street.

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Who is Debanjan Deb?

Police interrogation revealed that Debanjan’s father was a deputy excise officer who wanted him to be a government official. However, Debanjan failed to crack the UPSC exam.

The accused then started posing as a government official so that he could live up to his father's expectations.

From 2014 to 2017, Debanjan worked at the government's I&CA department, where he met many local-level leaders and officials during film festivals.

He organised free mask and food drives posing as a Kolkata Municipal Corporation worker. He even approached political leaders stating that he is a social worker.

His Facebook and Twitter accounts have multiple photographs of him with senior Trinamool leaders and ministers, including Transport Minister Firhad Hakim, Panchayat and Rural Affairs Minister Subrata Mukherjee, and MP Santanu Sen.

However, the three politicians claimed that they didn't know Debanjan personally.

Scam Unearthed

Trinamool MP and actor Mimi Chakraborty was invited by Debanjan to a vaccination camp at Kasba, which was said to be organised for transgenders and the differently-abled. Debanjan requested Chakraborty to attend the camp and get a shot to motivate others and encourage vaccination.

After taking her shot, the actor-MP got suspicious as she did not receive any SMS from CoWIN stating that the vaccine had been administered. She enquired with others and found out that none of those who got vaccinated at the camp had received the mandatory SMS.

Chakraborty immediately flagged the issue with the local civic authorities, after which action was taken.

Three separate FIRs have been lodged against Debanjan at the Kasba, the New Market, and the Amherst Street police stations. The KMC has also initiated an “internal enquiry” into the matter.

According to NDTV, three more persons have been arrested in the vaccine fraud case – two for forging signatures to open bank accounts and one for taking an active part in the ‘vaccination’ camps.

Police have also filed cases against the accused for duping people of money amounting to almost Rs 1 crore.

A private firm gave the fraudster about Rs 1.2 lakh to get 172 employees vaccinated, a pharma company gave him Rs 4 lakh after he promised to get the company a tender for hand sanitisers and a contractor was cheated of Rs 90 lakh, paid for the construction of a stadium.

Suvendu Adhikari Writes to Union Health Minister

BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari on Friday wrote an open letter to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan demanding a probe by central agencies into the Kolkata vaccine scam. Adhikari alleged that the Kolkata vaccine fraud would not have taken place without the knowledge of local police and civic authorities.

“The big question is were these shots really Covishield vaccines as claimed by the accused? If these were not COVID vaccines, immediate investigation needs to be conducted,” he wrote.

Adhikari said West Bengal had failed to catch up with other states in terms of vaccination numbers “largely due to the lack of enthusiasm from the present government."

West Bengal Govt Forms Experts’ Panel

In the wake of the incident, the West Bengal government formed an experts’ committee to examine the effects of the fake vaccines and corrective actions to be taken.

The panel will consist of four members: Prof Dr Santanu Tripathi, STM; Dr Jyotirmoy Pal, R G Kar Medical College; Dr Soumitra Ghosh IPGMER; and Dr GK Dhali, IPGMER.

The committee has been instructed to submit its detailed report immediately. Meanwhile, all the necessary coordination and the detailed medical examination of all the victims of this incident will be arranged by DHS, West Bengal.

(With inputs from The Print, ANI and NDTV)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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