13 Feb 2021: Irregularities in COVID-19 testing emerge in Bihar, CM promises action
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday promised action on the glaring irregularities in the coronavirus testing in the state. The issue resonated in Rajya Sabha yesterday with parliamentarian Manoj Jha demanding a high-level probe.
In Jamui district, from where a sizable number of fraudulent incidents were reported, nine healthcare personnel, including five senior members, were suspended.
The Centre also sought a detailed report.
Context: To show favorable numbers, officials fudged data
An investigation by The Indian Express exposed that officials in at least six Primary Health Centers (PHCs) in Jamui, Sheikhpura, and Patna districts didn't test as many people on January 16, 18, and 25 as reported.
The worst among these was Jamui, where most of 588 entries for those three days were fraudulent.
Wrong phone numbers with fake names were uploaded to meet targets.
Data: Entries and confirmed number of tests didn't match
At the PHCs in Barhat, Sadar, and Sikandara in the Jamui district, only a handful number of people were actually tested on the aforementioned dates.
Reportedly, of the 230 entries in Barhat PHC, merely 12 were tested; at Sadar PHC just 65 out of the 150 entries were tested;, and in Sikandara PHC, out of the 208 entries, only 43 were real.
Phone numbers: Official records were replete with invalid and false phone numbers
To meet targets, officials also uploaded wrong phone numbers. For example, records at Barhat PHC for January 16 reflected just one cell number against 14 entries. The number was invalid.
A similar modus operandi was deployed in Sheikhpura district as well.
On January 25, two people — Sonali Kumari and Ajeet Kumar — tested coronavirus negative but the number used for them belonged to one Vijay Kumar, a shop owner in Uttar Pradesh.
Statement: A staff member admitted they had been uploading wrong information
A PHC staffer, who chose to remain anonymous, said they have been under pressure.
"Since September, we have been filling most of the columns with any names and numbers we can access because we are under pressure to meet or get close to the daily targets," the person said.
Bihar has reported 2,61,568 coronavirus cases and 1,521 deaths. The active number of cases is around 700.
What happened: Jha raked up issue in Parliament, Naidu expressed concern
Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, Jha, a member of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), said, "There is no match of name and mobile numbers...10 times, 0 (zero) has been given as the contact number."
He demanded an impartial probe.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu also dubbed it a serious concern and supported the call for an inquiry.
Assurance: CM Kumar sought full information from health department
As the matter created a furor in Parliament, CM Kumar said he is not in the dark about the news reports either.
"I have sought full information from the health department and have been assured of a thorough investigation. Action is being taken...The irregularities were detected from one place (Jamui) in particular," he told reporters in state capital Patna.
Details: Jamui civil surgeon, officers-in-charge of two PHCs suspended
Separately, Health Minister Mangal Pandey informed that Jamui Civil Surgeon Dr. Vijyendra Satyarthi, District Program Officer Sudhanshu Lal, and District Immunization Officer Dr. Vimal Kumar Choudhary have been suspended.
The officers-in-charge of Barhat PHC and Sikandara PHC (NK Mandal and Mohammed Sajid Hussain respectively) were also suspended, and so were four other junior staff members, Pandey revealed.