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LIC Agent Gets SMS, Probe Begins, and Vacant Building Found: Unravelling Covid Test Scam at Kumbh Mela

Vacant building of Max Consultancy Service (MCS), the firm that had tied up with Uttarakhand administration for Covid tests at Kumbh.

Vacant building of Max Consultancy Service (MCS), the firm that had tied up with Uttarakhand administration for Covid tests at Kumbh.

Papers accessed by News18 suggests the Kumbh administration had inked a deal with Max Consultancy Service in April for conducting rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests.

A News18 investigation has found that a firm hired for conducting Covid tests during the Kumbh congregation in Haridwar remains only on papers. The laboratories hired by the firm in question allegedly conducted thousands of fake Covid tests.

The papers accessed by News18 suggests the Haridwar Kumbh administration had inked an MoU with Max Consultancy Service (MCS) in April for conducting the Covid tests. The paper shows the consultancy had an arrangement with two laboratories for collecting samples of rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests.

After it was discovered thousands of tests were fake following a complaint by Punjab resident Vipan Mittal, News18 visited the office of the consultancy service as shown in the records and found no such office was present in the Bhikaji Cama Place area in New Delhi.

On checking the website, the team reached its office in Noida’s Sector 63, only to find an isolated building with its gate chained. A property dealer’s numbers were displayed outside the secluded structure.

Mittal, who is now being considered a whistleblower in the case, is an LIC agent from Faridkot who received his ‘test report’ via a text message. The report, though negative, came as a shock to him as he had not got tested for the virus.

According to a local report, the LIC agent initially thought that someone had gotten their hands on his private data and was now misusing it. So he first approached the local authorities but was turned away.

After the health department officers also showed little interest in his case, he went ahead and filed a complaint with ICMR. The ICMR took note of Mittal’s case, but when several days passed and little action happened, he eventually filed an RTI plea to find out what the case really was. Thereafter, the matter picked up pace and a probe found that the lab that supposedly carried out Mittal’s Covid test was located at Haridwar.

Further investigation into the case revealed that Mittal wasn’t alone. About a lakh of bogus reports were produced under a massive scam.

Kumbh health official Dr Arjun Sengar said the firm seemed alright to them as it had submitted all documents. One Arjun Negi, whose name is mentioned on behalf of a consultancy firm in official communication, claimed he longer works for the company. “I am not responsible (for wrongdoings). I was there to help the firm for a brief period,” he said.

The Kumbh administration had an agreement with various laboratories to pay Rs 354 for every antigen test and Rs 500 for the RT-PCR test. Meanwhile, Uttarakhand secretary (health) Amit Negi has asked Haridwar officials to hold up payments of the firm to the tune of Rs 3 crore.

“The Haridwar administration is conducting a probe and we are hopeful of a fair report,” said Uttarakhand Cabinet Minister Subodh Uniyal, who is also the government’s spokesperson.

As per official records, close to four lakh Covid tests were conducted by 22 laboratories hired by the administration during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar that witnessed a gathering of lakhs of devotees despite curbs. From former Nepal king Gyanendra, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav to Akhara Parishad head Narendra Giri and several other seers had tested positive for Covid soon after attending the congregation.

(With inputs from Nikhil Lakhwani in New Delhi)

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