Little did an LIC agent from Punjab's Faridkot know that his email to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would bring to light what many are calling the country's 'largest fake COVID test scam'.
On 22 April, Vipan Mittal received an SMS saying that his swab has been collected for COVID-19 testing. Only, he had not taken the test.
"My COVID-19 report said I was negative, but I hadn’t taken the test. I went to local district authorities, but I was told to go away. Health department officials were also not interested in finding out what was going on. As a last resort, I filed an email complaint with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),” Mittal told the Times Of India on 15 June.
Following this, the ICMR told him that they would investigate the matter. But he did not receive a response. After a week, he filed Right to Information (RTI) – seeking details of a lab that had conducted his test.
The swab was reportedly collected and tested in Haridwar – where the Kumbh Mela was underway. The ICMR, meanwhile, forwarded the complaint to the Uttarkhand health department.
A detailed probe by the administration revealed that Mittal's was one among the one lakh COVID tests forged by one single lab.
“When I made the complaint, I didn’t expect that the scam was at this scale. I don’t think anyone could have expected this,” said Mittal. He, however, added that while the spotlight is on fake COVID reports, he will continue seeking answers for theft of his data. “How did the agency get my personal details? I still don’t know,” he told the newspaper.
What Had Happened?
According to the report, a single phone number was used to register 50 people, while one antigen test kit was shown to have tested 700 people – by a single lab in Haridwar.
“Addresses and names were fictional. Almost 530 samples were taken from ‘House Number 5’ in Haridwar. Is it possible for a house to have 500 residents,” an official told the newspaper.
"Phone numbers were fake too. People in Kanpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and 18 other locations shared the same phone number," he added.
The Kumbh Effect
The religious festival, which saw lakhs of devotees congregating amid the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, was held from 1 to 30 April. It was spread across parts of Haridwar, Dehradun, Tehri and Pauri districts.
Of the one lakh tests conducted, 177 were COVID positive – with a positivity rate of just 0.18 percent. However, the positivity rate in Haridwar in April was 10 percent.
The administration roped in 24 private labs – 14 by the district administration and 10 by the Kumbh mela administration – for conducting random testing of Kumbh visitors. At least 50,000 samples were said to be tested every day.