Days after a preliminary probe by the Uttarakhand health department that suggested many out of four lakh Covid-19 test results issued during the Kumbh festival in Haridwar were fake, a detailed investigation into the reports revealed that at least 1 lakh test reports were forged by a private agency.
The Times of India accessed the investigation reports and revealed several addresses ad phone numbers used were fake. Reportedly, in one of the cases, 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) had 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.
Phone numbers were fake as well and people in Kanpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and 18 other locations shared the same phone number, he added. The agency was supposed to submit these collected samples to two private labs, which are also under investigation, said Kumbh Mela health officer Dr Arjun Singh.
Taking cognizance of massive gaps in the investigation, state’s health secretary Amit Negi said that the investigation report has been forwarded to the Haridwar DM and several irregularities have been found.
“We will take action after receiving a detailed report from the DM in 15 days,” added Negi.
Meanwhile, as per orders by the Haridwar district magistrate C Ravishnkar the investigation is underway and pending payments of all agencies has been put on hold until further notice.
Reportedly, the sample collectors employed by the agency were not professionals but were students and data entry operators from 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.
However, officials claimed that this was “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.
Kumbh festival was held from April 1 to 30 in Haridwar and nearly four lakh tests in this period were conducted by nine agencies and 22 private labs. The state department also conducted its own tests through government labs.