The Thane Police on Thursday evening arrested Manish Keswani, a supplier of swab sticks for Covid-19 tests. This comes a day after the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation and the police found slum dwellers packing swab sticks – supplied by Keswani – at their homes in unsterile conditions at Sant Gyaneshwar Nagar.
“Keswani has been detained and his questioning will give us further leads about the supply chain,” said Suresh Mekhla, who holds the additional charge of Thane Police Commissioner.
Since last week, multiple households at the slum were involved in packing swab sticks in plastic wrappers to be used for RT-PCR tests. Women and children involved had to pack two swabs each in a packet and earned Rs 20 for 1,000 packets.
Keswani owns a godown in the slum and stocked the packing material there. Slum dwellers said he had hired multiple households in the area to pack the sticks. “Due to the lockdown, income is low and people were willing to do any job,” said local resident Surendra Yadav, who first posted a video of children packing the sticks on social media.
Pravin Mundada, Joint Commissioner (Drugs), said his team had visited two major manufacturers of swab sticks in Thane and both have claimed that they were not associated with Keswani. “We have inspected their manufacturing units. They have a license and follow norms of medical device production. The two supply to most labs in Thane,” he added.
Mundada said that an inspection showed that Keswani’s kits, named Bio-Swab, were not used by municipal corporations, hospitals or labs in Ulhasnagar. “We suspect he was supplying to other districts or other states.”
Keswani has not received a license from the Maharashtra FDA to manufacture swab sticks, records show. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials said the case could be of spurious manufacturing.
A swab stick is used by laboratories to conduct RT-PCR tests to detect Covid-19. The stick is inserted in the patient’s nasal and oral tracts to collect samples and then deposited in a fluid in the viral transport media (VTM) tube. Officials said the two are always sold together as a kit to laboratories.
On Thursday, the FDA and the police inspected Keswani’s godown-cum-office in Ulhasnagar and did not find any indication of VTM being manufactured. “We suspect he sold the swab kits to some manufacturer who sold it along with VTM to labs. We are yet to figure out the entire supply chain,” Mundada said.
A swab stick once packed undergoes gamma radiation for sterilisation. In Ulhasnagar, the sticks were being packed with bare hands by children and women, with most keeping the sticks on floor, mat or plates.
When The Indian Express met the families, they said they were not given sanitisers or gloves for the job. The slum dwellers were involved in the packing job last year as well when the first wave had hit Maharashtra.