Mumbai Jumbo COVID centre probe: BMC had no mechanism to check papers, BMC Chief Iqbal Singh Chahal tells ED

Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal appeared before the Enforcement Directorate on Monday to record his statement in connection with a money-laundering probe into alleged irregularities in the award of contracts for trained manpower to run a jumbo Covid-19 centre.

Abhishek SharanUpdated: Monday, January 16, 2023, 11:41 PM IST
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BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal | File

Mumbai: Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal appeared before the Enforcement Directorate on Monday to record his statement in connection with a money-laundering probe into alleged irregularities in the award of contracts for trained manpower to run a jumbo Covid-19 centre.

Mr Chahal, who was questioned for over four hours at the E.D.’s Mumbai zonal headquarters at Ballard Estate, furnished information and issued clarifications about the award of a contract to a firm that is said to have been unregistered and lacked the experience of providing manpower for medical facilities. The documents it submitted are said to have been bogus.

Mr Chahal later told reporters he had shared all information sought and told the E.D. the BMC had no mechanism at the time to verify documents submitted by agencies bidding for contracts to provide manpower for the jumbo centres or, indeed, for any other tender.

He said the BMC would be only “too happy to assist” the investigation by sharing any other information the agency might need. Of the 10 jumbo centres set up during the pandemic with ICU-dialysis and oxygen beds, one is under the agency’s scanner, he said. More than 97,000 Mumbaiites had used these centres and many were saved.

The Commissioner arrived at the E.D. office at around 11:30am and left at 3:30 pm. An E.D. source told The Free Press Journal that the agency would scrutinise the information he had shared and seek clarifications if needed. The agency’s probe seeks to establish the identity of the beneficiaries of the contract and whether payments to the firm were made as per norms.

In March-April 2020, when the pandemic hit the city, there were only 3,750 beds available at civic hospitals while the Centre and the World Health Organisation warned there could be lakhs of patients in the months to follow.

As the state Department of Medical Education expressed inability to provide doctors for deployment at the jumbo centres, the authorities had to outsource the task of providing trained medical personnel to private agencies.

The E.D. probe relates to a first information report lodged at the Azad Maidan police station in August 2022 against partners of Lifeline Hospital Management Services, contracted by the BMC to set up two jumbo centres.

According to the FIR, the company got the contract using forged documents and had no experience of providing manpower for any medical or health facility.

Mr Chahal told reporters that when the Mumbai Police approached the BMC for information relating to the complaint, the civic body requested the former to lodge an FIR and investigate as the force has the resources to examine the documents submitted.

According to the FIR, in 2020, a TV journalist died of Covid in Pune after which the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA) jointly inquired into the firm. The PMRDA also seized the security amount of Rs25 lakh deposited by the firm.

The inquiry revealed that the firm had no experience of providing medical services nor did it have adequate staff. It had junior doctors instead of seniors. Thereafter, the PMRDA issued a direction blacklisting Lifeline.

Yet, the BMC awarded the same company a contract worth Rs38 crore to provide services at two jumbo centres. The firm allegedly concealed relevant facts from the BMC. The FIR also says the partnership firm was unregistered and the partnership deed submitted to the BMC was dubious.

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