A group of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators on Tuesday, May 4, brought to the fore an alleged "bribe-for-bed scam" in Bengaluru civic body amid the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
Irregularities were reportedly being committed by the staff members of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) while allocating hospital beds to COVID-19 patients.
Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya, while addressing the media, said that there had been gross mismanagement in the allocation of beds in the south BBMP war room. He said that there had been zero availability of beds for the past two weeks.
He was accompanied by Bommanahalli MLA Satish Reddy, Basavanagudi MLA Ravi Subramanya, and Chickpet MLA Uday Garudachar.
Beds at government hospitals and their private counterparts reserve a certain number of beds to be filled by the state. These war rooms are responsible for allocating reserved hospital beds to patients through a centralised number.
However, Surya claimed that certain BBMP officials and private agents have been commercialising the pandemic and selling beds to make a profit.
He said that the beds were being blocked under the names of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients or the ones under home isolation but were being sold to others at an exorbitant price.
Surya explained that once the bed is booked, it gets blocked for 12 hours, and if the patient is not admitted to the hospital by then, the beds automatically get unblocked. In the span of 12 hours, these officials would find a patient who is willing to pay for the bed and, once it is unblocked, would re-allot it to the same patient.
"There is a nexus of BBMP officials, Aarogya Mitra (a frontline health service) people in hospitals and outside agents," he said.
He further added that data pertaining to the past ten days have revealed that there have been more than 4,000 instances of such 'blocking' and 'unblocking' of beds.
He also questioned the timing of the allotment of beds which, according to him, usually takes place in the wee hours of the day.
"This is the most disgusting thing that can take place in a pandemic," the BJP MP asserted. He said that Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had promised action against the officials involved.
Springing To Action
According to NDTV, within a few hours of Surya's address, Bengaluru City Police Commissioner tweeted that a fraud and cheating case has been registered at Jayanagar police station.
Two individuals, Rohit and Netra, had been arrested who were allegedly charging patients between ₹25,000-₹50,000 for each bed. The police had also recovered ₹1.05 lakh from their bank account.
According to The News Minute, the Bengaluru Police had arrested four persons till Wednesday, May 5. Four others have been questioned so far regarding the alleged corruption and mismanagement of beds. Additionally, two FIRs have also been registered.
The cases originally registered in the south and southeast zones have been transferred to the Central Crime Branch for a thorough investigation.
Incident Takes Communal Turn
Soon after the incident was reported, a two-minute video of Surya reading out names of 17 staff members from the minority community working at the war room went viral on social media.
Surya, standing along with MLAs Satish Reddy and Ravi Subramanya, can be seen reading out the names of the 17 Muslim employees at the war room and enquiring about their qualifications.
One of the staff members responded that all of them were hired after the applications were put out by the BBMP for agencies.
In response, MLA Subramanya is heard asking, "Only these people are sending applications?" He then goes on to say that, "Are you hiring for a corporation or a Madrasa?"
Throughout the conversation, which lasted several minutes, Surya did not stop the communal comments made by the accompanying MLAs.
Reports also state that after Surya's exposé, a list of 16 names started circulating on WhatsApp with the caption "List of people working in the BBMP War Room killing thousands of Bengalurians".
Surya refuted the allegation that he 'communalised' the issue of mismanagement of COVID-19 beds.
"Two days before I went to the war room, the Joint Commissioner informed me that he had removed a few people and gave me the list. That list had all these names. I merely read out those names and asked how they were appointed, on what basis, and by which agency. I never made any allegations against any of them. But, when have facts been important to the Congress or to journalists who sympathise with them?" he told Deccan Herald.
Event Impacts Volunteers
According to The Times of India, the series of events has taken a hit on the staff members who have been working tirelessly amid the raging pandemic.
BBMP Chief Commissioner Gaurav Gupta said that war rooms are running short-staffed when the system is crashing due to information overload, and officials are receiving overwhelming calls and inquiries.
"We have deployed three volunteers at each of the 55 hospitals, and more than 40 people did not turn up. When we called them, they said they didn't want to take a risk till there is clarity that no terrorists are involved," said Girih Mattennavar, who is the director of the BBM Citizen Help Group overseeing COVID operations.
"Nobody stayed away from work on Wednesday; I don't know about Thursday as many of us are demoralised," said Abdul Razak, a volunteer engaged with social organisation Mercy Angels who shared that at least 150-250 people involved in cremation and burial of COVID victims were Muslims and were upset with the incident.
The Logical Indian Take
It is the moral responsibility of the elected representatives to bring to light scams perpetrated with an intention to make profits, especially during the time when the country is witnessing a massive public health crisis.
However, such issues should be dealt with the utmost sensitivity. Karnataka is reporting a massive spike in coronavirus cases amid the second wave of the pandemic. Individuals and several not-for-profit organisations across the social spectrum are coming together and voluntarily taking it upon themselves to help the needy.
Such incidents end up diverting attention from the core issue and creating an unnecessary panic discouraging people from helping each other.