Two labs that allegedly conducted fake Covid-19 tests during the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand in April have approached the state’s High Court to quash the first information report filed against them, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday.
The police had last week filed a case against Delhi-based Lalchandani Labs and Nalwa Labs in Haryana’s Hisar district under charges of spreading disease, cheating and criminal conspiracy, and negligence under sections of the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act.
Noida-based Max Corporate Services, which signed contracts with the labs to facilitate and coordinate testing, was also booked.
The labs allegedly conducted 1 lakh fake rapid antigen tests during the Kumbh Mela. However, Lalchandani Labs told the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday that it had only done 12,000 tests between April 1 and 26 after signing a memorandum of understanding with Max Corporate Services. The lab also refuted accusations of embezzling crores of rupees.
“The labs conducted tests at nominal Rs 206 per test and total bill for these tests was around Rs 24.74 lakh and not crores of rupees reported by media,” the lab said in its petition, according to the Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, Nalwa labs claimed it did not receive any payment from Max for the contract and denied sending its technicians to conduct tests at the Kumbh Mela. “Max Corporate Services never asked or requested to provide any technical support nor any of our technicians were called for any training,” the lab’s lawyer Parikshit Saini was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
While defending itself, Max said it was just a service provider and not an accredited lab for testing. “Max entered into contracts with two labs, which were responsible for sample collection, testing, data feeding and report generation,” it said.
Contradicting Malwa Labs’ claim about non-payment, Max said it had paid Rs 15 lakh to its partner. “Nalwa signed an MoU [memorandum of understanding], gave authorisation letter, had representatives working on site and uploaded the data from their account,” a representative for the lab told the Hindustan Times. “We have sufficient documents to prove our case.”
On Monday, the two labs and Max received notices from the Special Investigation Team of the Uttarakhand Police to appear for questioning, ANI reported.
The irregularities in testing are also being investigated by district officials in Haridwar and the Kumbh Mela administration.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had 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 in India. The blatant violation of Covid-19 protocols at the gathering gained attention across the world. However, state authorities tried to downplay the risks.
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.
On May 20, the Uttarakhand High Court had 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?”