2 labs move HC over fake testing charges at Kumbh
Two labs accused of conducting fake tests during the Mahakumbh approached the Uttarakhand high court on Monday to quash an FIR against them even as a police special investigation team (SIT) issued notices to the two facilities and the Noida-based private agency that bagged the contract for Covid testing during the holy event.
The developments came four days after police booked Delhi-based Lalchandani Labs, Hisar-based Nalwa labs and Noida-based Max Corporate Services for allegedly conducting 100,000 fake rapid antigen tests during the Kumbh mela in April.
Max Corporate Services – not related to the Max Healthcare Group – has already approached the high court against the FIR. HT has seen copies of all three petitions.
Lalchandani Labs told the high court that it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Max on March 10 and conducted only 12,000 rapid tests between April 1 and 26.
“The labs conducted tests at nominal ₹206 per test and total bill for these tests was around ₹24.74 lakh and not crores of rupees reported by media. So there is not an iota of truth in the allegation that crores of rupees have been embezzled by the lab. The petitioners are becoming victims of a media trial”, said Vikas Bahuguna, counsel for Lalchandani Labs.
Separately, Nalwa labs also filed a petition in the high court to quash the FIR and sought interim protection. The Hisar-based facility claimed that it signed a MoU with Max on March 10 but neither received any payments nor sent any technicians to conduct tests at the Kumbh.
“Max Corporate Services never asked or requested to provide any technical support nor any of our technicians were called for any training,” said Parikshit Saini, counsel for Nalwa Labs. “We are a reputed firm with a 40-year history,” he added. On April 27, after allegations of fake testing surfaced, Nalwa cancelled its MoU, he claimed.
But Max rejected the allegations and said it was only a service provider, not an accredited lab to conduct tests. “Max entered into contracts with two labs, which were responsible for sample collection, testing, data feeding and report generation. Our job was facilitation and coordination. We have paid ₹15 lakhs to a partner of Nalwa labs. Nalwa signed an MoU, gave authorization letter, had representatives working on site and uploaded the data from their account. We have sufficient documents to prove our case,” said a representative from Max Corporate Services.
The Kumbh mela was curtailed this year but devotees thronged Haridwar for months despite experts saying the crowds and rampant violation of Covid protocol could spark a surge in infections. Roughly 9.1 million pilgrims took the holy dip in the Ganga from January 14 to April 27. The bulk of this -- at least six million people -- congregated in April, coinciding with the worst surge in the second wave of the pandemic.
Allegations of fake testing surfaced last week after a Faridkot resident complained to the authorities that he received a message for collecting his Covid report despite never having been tested. The complaint triggered a probe that unearthed roughly 100,000 fake rapid antigen tests.
Real-time data checking through the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) portal revealed fake entries on basis of mobile numbers and addresses of people who were never tested. On contacting such people, many people said they had not even visited Haridwar in April.
On Thursday, the three labs were booked for negligence, spreading disease, cheating and criminal conspiracy, and under sections of the 2005 disaster management act and the 1897 epidemic diseases act.
There are three separate probes looking into the allegations. One by the district administration, one by the Kumbh mela administration and a third by the police SIT.
chief investigating officer of the district probe committee, Saurabh Geharwar, asked the directors of Max, Lalchandani Labs and Nalwa Labs to appear in person on June 24 for questioning. The SIT also served separate notices to the three firms to present ICMR registration, agreement letter, tender and related documents in three days. “Notice serving process is being done by SIT and all aspects are being investigated. SIT is carrying parallel investigation with every angle being probed,” said senior superintendent of police, D Senthil Aboodai Krishan.