A group of Bharatiya Janata Party legislators brought up alleged corruption in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s bed allocation to Covid-19 patients amid the second wave of the pandemic, in Karnataka’s capital. In doing so, the group, including Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya, also gave a communal twist to the allegations, accusing Muslims in the war room of being responsible for the conspiracy, without any evidence.
In addition to Surya, the group comprised Bommanahalli MLA Satish Reddy, Basavanagudi MLA Ravi Subramanya and Chickpet MLA Uday Garudachar. The BJP is the biggest member of the BBMP, and Bengaluru Mayor Gowtham Kumar is a corporator of the saffron party.
The allegations raised doubts about the system of bed allocation across Bengaluru, done by the South Zone Covid-19 war room.
Surya claimed that beds were being blocked under the names of asymptomatic Covid-19 patients or those under home isolation, but were sold to others. Officials at these war rooms operate a centralised number, through which beds are allotted to government hospitals or to private institutions that have reserved some beds for the state.
“There’s a nexus of certain BBMP officers, certain Aarogya Mitra [a frontline healthcare service] hospitals and certain agents who have made this ‘bribes for beds’ scam,” Surya alleged.
Surya and the other BJP leaders also visited the war room located in Jayanagar, with the details on the bed allocations and confronted officials, reported The Hindu.
“There has been no transparency in bed allocation,” Surya said at a briefing. “I had to threaten a senior officer in the early hours of Tuesday that unless we were provided with the raw data of bed allocation, I would stage a protest in front of the war room. A prima facie analysis of the data revealed the scam. We have found cases where ICU beds were booked 12 times in the name of one patient.”
The BJP leader also made communally charged remarks against those from the minority community working at the coronavirus war room, according to The Hindu. Surya listed 17 officials responsible for the alleged scam, all of whom are Muslims. The BJP leaders asked why so many from the same community were appointed in the war room.
Subsequent reports made it evident that Surya had simply read out the names of 17 Muslims officials from among more than 200 employees across various shifts, offering no evidence or explanation for why only these individuals were highlighted.
Surya claimed that once a bed became empty at a hospital, it was immediately blocked from the control room and therefore it is assumed that there are no available beds. “However, a patient for whom the bed is blocked needs to report to the hospital within 12 hours, during which time those involved in this scam at the control room manually allot it to someone else, for a consideration,” he said.
While the allegations were viewed as a humiliation for the BJP, Surya tweeted late on Tuesday, claiming that the “system is reforming” as from zero beds the BBMP website was now showing 1,504 available.
Meanwhile, the Bengaluru Police arrested two accused, identified as Rohit and Netra, who were allegedly charging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000 for each bed, reported NDTV. The police also recovered Rs 1.05 lakh from their bank account.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said the Central Crime Branch was handling the matter. “A case has been registered in Jayanagar Police Station for fraud and cheating allegedly committed in allotment of beds on BBMP portal for Covid-19 patients,” he tweeted. “Two accused have been arrested and others are being questioned for alleged fraud/irregularity in allotment of beds in return for money from patients.”
Amid the controversy, Bangalore BBMP Joint Commissioner Sarfaraz Khan said he was extremely pained to see a message being shared on social media accusing him of being involved in the alleged scam. The WhatsApp message listed 16 names of Muslims with the title: “List of terrorists working in BBMP war room killing thousands of Bengalurians.”
Khan said he had no involvement in the war room in question and also noted his responsibilities. “...My name is being dragged for alleged mismanagement in the BBMP war room established for allocation of beds,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“It was shocking for the simple reason that I have no role in war room nor do I know any doctor in war room. War room is headed by special commissioner health,” Khan wrote. “My job is to take care of BBMP Covid care centres and Solid waste Management Department. I would like to say that 90% occupancy in Haj Bhavan is our brothers from other religion and 10% of them are Muslims.”
The Congress lauded Surya for exposing the scam. “Under whose control is BBMP? They should immediately name the BJP Minister responsible for people suffering so much,” tweeted Karnataka unit Congress chief DK Shivakumar.
Karnataka on Tuesday evening reported 44,631 new Covid cases in 24 hours, pushing the total infection count in the state to 16,90,934. Of these, Bengaluru alone registered 20,870 cases. The toll rose to 16,538 after 288 deaths.
India, which is reeling under a surge of Covid-19 infections and fatalities, is struggling to keep up with the rising demand of medical supplies. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in the requirement for beds, ventilators, oxygen supplies and drugs as hospitals struggle to hold together the country’s healthcare infrastructure.
India on Wednesday registered 3,82,315 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally in the country to 2,06,65,148 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The toll climbed by 3,780 to 2,26,188. The number of active cases in the country stood at 34,87,229. India has recorded more than 3 lakh cases a day for nearly 15 days in a row, since April 22.