Police have arrested two people and registered a case over alleged fraud in the allotment of beds to Covid-19 patients in Bengaluru, officials said on Tuesday, hours after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian Tejasvi Surya pointed to a suspected nexus between civic officials and private agents.
Some officials in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the BJP-run municipal body in the information and technology hub, were conniving with touts to book hospital beds in the name of people under home isolation, Surya alleged, adding that these beds were later given to patients in need at an exorbitant price.
The 30-year-old MP’s charge triggered a flutter in the BJP government, which ordered a probe into the allegations.
The development comes at a time when Karnataka, like most of India, is reeling from a deadly second wave of Covid-19 that has triggered a massive surge in the country’s infection count and stressed the health care sector with hospital beds and life-saving medical oxygen in high demand.
On Tuesday, Karnataka reported 44,631 new cases and 292 deaths, taking the state’s infection count and fatalities to 16,90,934 and 16,538, respectively. Bengaluru alone accounted for almost half the fresh cases (20,870 infections) and deaths (132 fatalities).
“A case vide cr no. 87/21 has been registered in @jayanagarps for fraud and cheating allegedly committed in allotment of beds on BBMP portal for #COVID patients…,” Bengaluru Police commissioner Kamal Pant tweeted.
He said two accused were arrested and others were being questioned “for alleged fraud/irregularity in the allotment of beds in return for money from patients”. The case was handed over to Bengaluru’s City Crime Branch, or CCB, for probe.
According to Bengaluru South MP Surya, over 4,000 cases of irregularities were reported in the past week. He alleged that many people, under whose name beds were booked, did not know about any such allotment in the first place.
He added that these were the beds that some BBMP officials tried to sell at a high price with the help of private agents. He added a bed was unblocked after 12 hours if there were no takers.
“In the last seven to eight days, more than 4,065 cases have come to light where beds were booked by BBMP but they automatically got unblocked after the mandatory 12 hours. That means a certain patient who does not need a bed is allotted one,” Surya said.
He also alleged that some private hospitals could be involved in the practice.
“There is the curious case of certain big hospitals where admissions happen only in the early hours or midnight. Not a single admission takes place at any time during the day. But after 12 in the night — at 1.30am or 2am — some 20 beds become free or available at the same time. Within a minute or two, they get allotted…patients are admitted (and they) get ventilators. Were these patients waiting in que for the ventilator? How did they all jump into ventilator-beds in thirty seconds?” he asked.
Audio recordings in which people could be heard stating during a telephonic audit that they had no information about beds being allotted to them have surfaced.
“Whoever is involved, strong action will be taken…it has to be transparent,” deputy chief minister CN Ashwathnarayan said.