Investigators still working to find the motive behind the fraud as the jabs were being administered free of cost
Kolkata police on Wednesday busted a Covid-19 vaccination scam involving several fake centres, which duped hundreds of unaware recipients, after local lawmaker Mimi Chakraborty lodged a complaint.
They also arrested a man named Debanjan Deb, who posed as an IAS officer associated with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and was operating the facility, reports the Times of India.
Actor-turned-MP from jadavpur Mimi Chakraborty was an invitee at one such camp set up in Kasba on Tuesday, and chose to take her first shot there. The MP said she informed the police when she failed to receive SMS or the vaccination certificate.
“The organizers told me it was a vaccination camp for transperson [sic] and differently-abled people. I instantly accepted the invitation and decided to get the jab to encourage others. When I realized I was misguided, I instantly informed the police,” said Chakraborty.
Over the last six days, at least 250 people have been given the "shot" at the fake vaccination centre in Kasba, according to police. Deb had also organized similar fake camps around north and central Kolkata, including one at City College in north Kolkata and another in Sonarpur, according to investigators.
While Deb claimed to have procured “genuine” vaccines “from Bagri market” and “outside Swasthya Bhavan,” hundreds of people, including Chakraborty, are concerned about what they may have been given, because Covid-19 vaccines are not available on the open market.
“We have decided to send the samples for testing. If we find it to be placebo (normal saline) or any other vaccine, we will ask the recipients to get the jabs again,” said Deputy Commissioner Rashid Munir Khan.
Investigators at a loss
The KMC on Wednesday decided to initiate a probe into the matter as the organizers had used the civic body’s vaccination banner to attract residents.
“It is a major concern for us that our banners and logos were used for such a drive. Now we need to know the source of the vaccine vials. If we find any involvement of our officials, we will definitely track them down,” said KMC Administrator Firhad Hakim.
Taking a lesson, the KMC has ordered that all off-site vaccination camps, including those run by private hospitals, must first obtain permission from the civic body's health department.
Police have seized several fake ID cards from Deb: one introduced him as an IAS officer posted with the Ministry of Information and Culture, and another as a joint municipal commissioner of KMC. His car was fitted with a beacon and sported KMC stickers.
Investigators have yet to establish the motive behind the fraud as the vaccine shots were being administered free of cost. Police said they were investigating why Deb retained signed photocopies of each recipient’s Aadhaar card.
“The car he used belongs to him. He claimed he wanted to popularize an NGO that he was heading, but this NGO is not even registered. We are trying to ascertain his exact motives,” said an officer from Kasba police station.
“Deb has so far made vague statements. We plan to take him to Bagri Market and Swasthya Bhavan as part of our investigation,” said the officer.
On how Deb’s fake camps escaped the radar, DC Khan said: “Many NGOs are organizing camps and giving free vaccines to the poor. So initially he was not suspected. When we came to know of it [the fraud], we raided and arrested him.”