'Conspiracy against Hindus': Religious figures criticise linking Kumbh with COVID-19 spread

Express News Service
DEHRADUN:  There were clear red flags of Covid-19 testing irregularities in Haridwar during the Kumbh mela in April, but they don’t appear to have stirred the authorities into action, resulting in the testing scam being unearthed only last week.

Official data analysed by this newspaper of testing and positivity rate during April 1-30, the duration of the Maha Kumbh 2021, showed that Haridwar conducted more tests than the rest of the state, but the number of positive cases detected was far less.

During April 1-30, a total of 6,00,291 tests were conducted in Haridwar, of which only 17,375 positive cases were detected. During the same period, the rest of the 12 districts of the state conducted 4,42,432 tests and this showed 62,735 positive cases. In terms of percentage, almost 60% of all Covid tests in April was conducted in Haridwar, but they were able to detect alarmingly fewer positive cases than the rest of the state. The state’s positivity rate during April mirrors the new cases.

An analysis of the official data showed Uttarakhand’s average positivity rate during the month was 14.18% while that of Haridwar district was 2.89%. That means Haridwar’s positivity rate during the Maha Kumbh was 80% less than the rest of state. The figures indicated two things: either fake testing was going on rampantly, or the numbers were covered up, deliberately or otherwise.

But either way, the authorities did not appear to have smelt a rat. Haridwar district magistrate C Ravishankar attributed the low detection to rapid antigen tests. “Thousands of people were arriving daily and it was not possible to conduct RT-PCR test of everyone coming for the Kumbh.”

Galloping rise in cases during Kumbh gathering

Haridwar DM C Ravishankar sought to deflect blame. “The labs that conducted tests were hired by the mela administration,” he said. It was after a Faridkot resident complained that he received a message for collecting his Covid-19 report despite never having been tested, did the scam surface.

The complaint triggered a probe that unearthed roughly 1,00,000 fake tests, allegedly conducted by Max Corporate Services. On Friday, Uttarakhand police formed an SIT to probe how an unknown private agency secured the contract for testing during the mela.

Another investigation by the district administration is on. The Uttarakhand government also failed to comply with a high court order on testing in Haridwar. The court had ordered a minimum of 50,000 tests a day. In 30 days, authorities should have conducted at least 15 lakh tests. But only a little over 6 lakh tests were done. An estimated 70 lakh people attended the month-long event.

The pandemic galloped during and after Kumbh. Prior to the event on March 31, total cases in the state was 1,863. On April 30, the day the Kumbh officially concluded, the number had climbed to 49,492. April set Covid records in Uttarakhand. The state saw 80,110 cases and 907 deaths. This was surpassed in May, possibly on account of the mela ef fect.

There were 1,48,973 cases, 3,828 deaths. “If investigation shows data inaccuracies, the government should not hesitate in accepting errors,” said Anoop Nautiyal, whose Social Development for Communities Foundation has been analysing data since March, 2020.