Earlier this year, as the second wave of COVID-19 took off in India, Kumbh Mela celebrations had come under scrutiny. Even as countless individuals protested the lack of social distancing and absence of masks and COVID-19 protocols, hundreds of people had tested positive in April. But this might just be the tip of the iceberg. While the positivity rate of Haridwar was believed to have been around 0.18% during this time, an ED investigation suggests that the actual rate was 5.3%.
According to reports, over 1,700 people tested positive from April 10 to 14. A PTI report from April 15 explains that medical workers conducted 2,36,751 tests over the five-day period in the Haridwar mela site, with 1,701coming back positive. The COVID-19 numbers from one of the world's largest religious gatherings however have been overshadowed by allegations of fraud.
On Friday, the Enforcement Directorate conducted searches at the office premises of five laboratories in five different cities in connection with the investigation into the fake COVID-19 testing scam during Kumbh Mela. Novus Path Labs, DNA Labs, Max Corporate Services, Dr Lal Chandani Labs Pvt Ltd and Nalwa Laboratories Pvt Ltd were among those searched along with the residential premises of their Directors at Dehradun, Haridwar, Delhi, Noida and Hisar.
Based on an FIR by the Uttarakhand Police, the ED has now initiated a money laundering investigation. According to their investigation, these labs had been given a contract by the state government for conducting Rapid Antigen Test and RT-PCR test for COVID testing during Kumbh Mela. An amount of Rs 3.4 crore has already been received by them from the Uttarakhand government as part payment.
However, they carried out a rather small number of tests, opting instead to make fake entries. They also raised bogus bills to earn illegal financial gains, the ED said. According to the ED, they would use a single mobile number or false mobile number or single address and the same Specimen Referral Form for multiple persons in order to show high level of COVID-19 testing without actually undertaking it. In fact, testing was claimed to have be done in the name of the people who had never visited Kumbh Mela.
(With inputs from agencies)
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