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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Covid gaps in the open: Bihar CM promises action, some heads roll; Centre seeks report

After RJD’s Manoj Jha flags Express reports in Rajya Sabha, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu says issue important; Bihar govt suspends 9.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi, Patna |
Updated: February 13, 2021 12:02:56 pm
Nitish Kumar, Kanhaiya Kumar, Bihar politics, Nitish meets Kanhaiya kumar, LJP, JDU, Bihar news, Indian expressBihar CM Nitish Kumar. (File)

BIHAR CHIEF Minister Nitish Kumar Friday said that action is being taken on the findings of The Indian Express investigation that revealed glaring gaps in the state’s Covid testing data even as his government suspended nine Health personnel, including five senior officials, in Jamui district from where “irregularities were detected… in particular”. The Centre has sought a “detailed report” from the Bihar government on the findings.

This came on the day RJD MP Manoj Jha referred to The Indian Express reports in the Rajya Sabha and demanded “a high-level probe”. In response, the Rajya Sabha chairman, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, suggested to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan that the issue “is a subject for inquiry”.

A senior Central government official told The Indian Express that the Union Health Ministry has sent a letter to the Bihar government seeking “a detailed report on the matter”.

In Patna, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told reporters: “I have learnt about the anomalies in Covid testing. 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.”

State Health Minister Mangal Pandey said that among those suspended are Jamui Civil Surgeon Dr Vijyendra Satyarthi, District Programme Officer Sudhanshu Lal and District Immunisation Officer Dr Vimal Kumar Choudhary. The officials heading two Primary Health Centres in Jamui, Barhat PHC medical officer in-charge N K Mandal and Sikandara PHC medical officer in-charge Mohammed Sajid Hussain, were also suspended, apart from four junior staffers.

Referring to The Indian Express reports, RJD’s Jha, whose party is in Opposition in Bihar, said during Zero Hour: “Over the past two days, a leading national daily has been carrying stories on manipulation and fudging of Covid testing data in Bihar. Astonishingly, testing figures crossed 1 lakh in seven days, and then it crossed 2 lakh in another 14 days. It has been found that many columns in testing data have been left blank. Contract tracing is difficult since mobile numbers with ten zeroes have been entered against names, and in many cases, the names and mobile numbers of people are not matching.”

Jha said: “I want to demand…a high-level inquiry into this.”

The MP also suggested that government agencies use Aadhaar card, PAN card and other valid documents to ensure “no one can make a mockery of the health system this way”.

In response, Naidu referred to the Union Health Minister and suggested that he could “look into it”.

As part of its investigation, The Indian Express visited six PHCs in Jamui, Sheikhpura and Patna, and accessed their testing records for January 16, 18 and 25. It tracked down 885 entries at these PHCs, and spoke to several staffers to find that basic data protocol was bypassed in a scramble to meet the daily target — from fudged mobile numbers to fake names and dodgy entries.

Bihar was among the states hardest-hit by the pandemic with the return of over 20 lakh migrant workers as infections peaked in the middle of last year. The state has so far recorded 2,61,568 positive cases, with 700 active cases, and 1,521 deaths linked to Covid.

While Patna tops the state’s Covid chart with over 52,500 cases so far, records from Jamui and Sheikhpura show how in several cases, the mobile numbers provided for those tested were owned by unrelated people from other districts or states. In some cases, multiple unrelated persons were listed under one number. In a few cases, the numbers used were those of the PHC staffers themselves.

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