The Uttarakhand government has directed the Haridwar district authorities to register a case against private laboratories that have allegedly conducted fake coronavirus tests during the Kumbh Mela, held in April, reported ANI.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in the city of Haridwar for a ritual bath in the Ganges River between April 1 and April 30, amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases during the second wave. The violation of Covid-19 protocols at the gathering had attracted attention from across the world. However, state authorities, including the chief minister, had tried to downplay the risks.
The Centre had in March issued a list of Covid-19 guidelines in the states. However, once the festival began, devotees openly violated Covid-19 norms. The police then said that a stampede may occur if they tried to enforce physical distancing guidelines.
“Uttarakhand government has ordered the Haridwar district administration to register FIR in Covid testing scam during Mahakumbh,” Uttarakhand government’s spokesperson Subodh Uniyal told ANI on Wednesday. “Order issued to file a case against labs from Delhi and Haryana, which conducted testing at five places in Haridwar during Kumbh Mela.”
The state administration’s action came days after reports cropped up about fake Covid-19 tests conducted during the festival. On Tuesday, the Union health ministry said that an inquiry was underway into the allegations.
“We got to know about an incident when a Punjab resident received a message that his Covid-19 test had been conducted in Haridwar, while he was in Punjab,” Joint Secretary, Union Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal said at a briefing, according to The Hindu. “The information was passed on to the state government, which in a pro-active manner conducted an inquiry and about a week ago directed senior officials in Haridwar to prepare a detailed report.’’
Agarwal said the exact number of fake tests was not known but a detailed report on the matter was expected in a week.
Reports suggested that the private laboratories conducted fake tests to meet the daily 50,000 testing quota set by the Uttarakhand High Court order. Twenty two private laboratories had been contracted for the testing during the festival, according to NDTV.
Haridwar District Magistrate C Ravishankar had said that payment to all these labs responsible for conducting tests had been withheld due to the investigation.
As the event was underway, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on April 13 said that “flow and blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure that coronavirus does not spread”. He also claimed that the event was safe as it was being held in an open area.
On Thursday, Rawat said that the Kumbh Mela had occurred before he assumed charge as chief minister. “As soon as I took charge, I ordered an inquiry into it,” Rawat told ANI. “Probe is underway, strict action will be taken against those found guilty.”
The chief minister was sworn into office on March 10.
On May 20, the Uttarakhand High Court criticised the state government for failing to ensure compliance with the coronavirus protocol while holding religious events or gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela and Char Dham Yatra.
“First we make the mistake of [holding] Kumbh Mela, then there is Char Dham,” Chief Justice RS Chauhan had said. “Why do we repeatedly cause embarrassment to ourselves?”
As of Thursday morning, Uttarakhand has 3,572 active Covid-19 cases, 3,27,233 recoveries and 6,997 fatalities, according to the Union health ministry data.