Shivraj Pataria and his wife Nita, a doctor couple and owners of Shivam Hospital in Charkop, were arrested by Mumbai police late on Thursday night for their alleged role in the fake vaccination drive. Two others Shrikant Mane and Seema Ahuja were also arrested by Bhoiwada police taking the number of arrests in the fake vaccination drive to 10.
Vishwas Nangre-Patil, joint commissioner of police (law and order) said that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by deputy commissioner of police (Zone 11) Vishal Thakur has been formed the to investigate the case, and that section 308 of the Indian Penal Code, attempt to commit culpable homicide, for having intention or knowledge that their act could cause death, has been added to the seven FIR’s registered across the city.
Nangre-Patil also said that the bank accounts of the two main accused identified as Mahendra Singh and Manish Tripathi has been frozen, and Rs 12.4 lakh in cash has been seized along with a Toyota car that the accused had used to transport vaccines.
Dr Manish Tripathi, who had allegedly procured the vaccines and is a key player in the fraud vaccination drive, had lured nine of his students with extra marks in practical exams, and asked them to administer saline and distilled water, said Nangre-Patil. Mahendra Singh and his aides, Nangre-Patil said, had had targeted low-level employees of private hospitals to procure the CoWIN IDs for a sum of ₹3000, and links of higher authorities in hospitals has yet not surfaced.
During the probe, the 21-year-old Qareen Akbar Ali said that he and eight other students were roped in for either transporting or administering the vaccines. While he said that the vaccine vials were not sealed, they were transported by him on Tripathi's orders in an ice box, which is not equipped to maintain the temperature required for the Covishield vials. An official said, after the vaccination, the vials were supposed to be destroyed by the hospitals, but Shivam Hospital allegedly reused them and refilled it with saline water.
"Shivam Hospital was declared as a private COVID vaccination centre (PCVC) on March 5, and were authorized to administer vaccinations till April 28, for which they were procuring the Covishield and Covaxin doses. While the hospital had received 17,100 Covishield doses, 6,250 Covaxin doses were procured by them. Of these vaccines, the hospital had generated 16,884 and 5,942 certificates respectively, but the remaining doses were unaccounted for," Nangre-Patil said. Police suspect that the hospital had already promised doses for private vaccinations and ordered 1 lakh vaccine doses by paying a deposit of ₹5 crore, but since there was a shortage of vaccines, they could have used unfair means to complete the demand and cover up the financial loss.
Nangre-Patil said, "We are confident that the root of this fraud is one hospital, and both doctors were arrested from Shivam hospital. We have seized 114 fake certificates uploaded on the CoWin app. The drive has been carried out by the same gang. We request people to come forward if they have been cheated by the same people."
Police claim that a pharmaceutical company was also given 380 doses of Covishield and 100 doses of Covaxin, however, none of the beneficiaries received the certificates, raising suspicion on its authenticity. On Thursday, Mumbai Police told the Bombay HC that 2,053 persons were given fake vaccines, including 390 vaccinations at Hiranandani Health Club at Kandivali (W), 207 at Podar Education Society in Parel, 514 in Borivali, 30 at Malad West and nearly 365 persons at a drive organised for employees of Tips Industries at Khar, among others. Police said that while the number of victims could increase, the syndicate is the same, and people need not worry as they seem to have administered saline water, and nothing spurious.
Three more FIRs are also likely to be filed in the coming days in connection to similar drives conducted by the same gang.