Updated: May 9, 2021 8:10:18 am
A police investigation into irregularities in the allotment of beds through the centralised system of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) —highlighted by BJP South Bengaluru MP Tejasvi Surya recently — has led to the arrest of four people linked to the BBMP South Zone war room, searches at eight zonal war rooms and 16 different hospitals. Police are also looking at the role of a middleman with close links to the personal assistant of a BJP MLA who, incidentally, accompanied Surya during a raid on the BBMP South Zone war room.
The middleman reportedly had free, unregulated access to the war room, and was involved in the bed-blocking scam as alleged by Surya and others. Police have not been able to arrest or question him, however, as he is hospitalised for Covid-19.
One of the four persons arrested is Rihan, an operator with the South Zone war room, who allegedly blocked two HDU (high-dependency unit) beds and one ICU bed in different hospitals over the last month in the name of a person who was asymptomatic, did not seek a bed and had left the city for Jharkhand. Rihan allegedly did similar blocking of beds over 10 times.
The others arrested include Shashi, also an operator in the war room, and two alleged touts, Rohit Kumar and Netravati. After blocking Covid 19 beds, they would give these to patients willing to cough up anything from Rs 15,000 to Rs 1 lakh per bed, police said.
“A lot of outsiders were allowed unhindered access to the war room and the bed allocation system operators,” sources said, adding that more than an organised racket, the racket was a bid to profit from the demand-supply mismatch in hospital beds and the lack of an oversight system.
Sources said the role of doctors, hospitals, Arogya Mitras and BBMP officials is also being looked at.
Surya had alleged irregularities in the Bengaluru South Zone on May 4, and then gone on to search its war room and read out names of 16 Muslim staffers there specifically, of a total of 205. Sources said none of the persons whose names were read out by the MP was involved in bed allotments in the war room.
With the MP who is known for his controversial remarks accused of communalising the issue, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on Friday pointedly praised him. “With great difficulty and a lot of risk Tejasvi Surya has brought illegalities in the bed allocation system to the notice of the government… He has brought to light the realities on the ground and that is being made out to be an offence,” he said.
The CM also announced that the investigation into the irregularities was being handed over to the Bengaluru Central Crime Branch (CCB) Police.
On Saturday, a CCB team went to 16 hospitals. CCB chief and Joint Commissioner of Police Sandeep Patil said, “Eighteen persons were interrogated, including doctors in war rooms, hospital staff, ambulance app in-charge… From the interrogation of those arrested, one main suspect is identified. We are scanning technical data from the war room, and checking all bed allotments in the last month.”
Police have also collected CCTV footage of the war rooms and are looking for the presence of unauthorised persons.
Apart from South Zone, police have also started looking at “black-marketing” of beds in other areas of Bengaluru. In Sadashivanagar in central Bengaluru, police arrested three for allegedly extorting Rs 1.20 lakh from a family for an ICU bed at a private hospital. The three, Venkata Subbarao, Manjunath and an Arogya Mitra, Punith K, were associated with two different hospitals. The woman for whom the family was seeking a bed later died.
A 26-year-old, Anthony Raj, also approached the Bengaluru police saying he had paid a tout Rs 27,000 for a bed for his mother, but not got one. By the time he got a bed through the BBMP on April 24, his mother was dead. His father also died in the meantime. The alleged tout, Manish Sarkar, has been arrested.
Police said Sarkar was not linked to any war room or hospital staff. “He responded to a social media SOS put out by the complainant,” an officer said.
“I am not in a position to speak about the tragedy I faced,” Anthony Raj said when contacted.
Meanwhile, the IAS officers’ association in Karnataka has written to the Police Commissioner of Bengaluru seeking action against supporters of a BJP MLA from Bommanahalli in South Bengaluru for allegedly manhandling officer V Yashvantha on April 30 over bed allotments through the Bommanahalli BBMP war room.
“Shri V Yashvantha was a part of a team of officers who had obtained additional hospital beds from private hospitals… When pressure was brought upon the officer to yield the additional beds to the representatives of the honorable MLA, this was not agreed. As a result Shri V Yashvantha was manhandled and abused in public with a video available as evidence,” the association has written.
“The pressure from MLAs, MPs, IAS, IPS and other officials for beds is immense,” the head of medical services at a large Covid hospital in the city said.
Bengaluru continues to face a bed shortage, with over 20,000 daily cases being recorded for nearly two weeks.
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