Rakesh Somaiah, a software engineer in Bengaluru, visited at least 40 hospitals in search of a bed for his 93-year-old grandmother who tested COVID positive in the last week of April. After a 12-hour ordeal, Somaiah found some solace at the Bowring Hospital where, again, she could not get an exclusive bed but was treated in the triage room.
In Bengaluru, it has not been an isolated case. While some posted frantic requests on social media, some took the help of influential people to get beds. But for a large number of patients, there was no such luck. The BBMP (the city corporation) helpline evoked cold or no response, and the system showed 99% occupancy for beds across categories — general, intensive care units, and critical care units with ventilators.
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Why did the BBMP helplines suddenly go silent? According to Tejasvi Surya, the firebrand BJP MP from Bangalore South, it’s a full-blown racket where hospitals in the city had their COVID beds under fake names to make a killing at a time when COVID cases are shooting through the roof in the city. In fact, Bengaluru has the highest number of active cases in the country itself. Incidentally, the BBMP is ruled by the BJP, raising eyebrows in ruling political circles.
Raising questions about the actual bed booking status, the MP alleged that at least 4,065 beds were ‘blocked’ under fake names by hospitals across the city. The MP highlighted the nexus among BBMP officials, COVID war room operators, and private and public hospitals.
“When people are dying en masse after getting no beds, this can’t be called an act of corruption, but it’s clear murder,” Surya said at a press conference on Wednesday, May 5.
Perhaps taking a leaf out of Congress Youth Wing’s COVID relief work, Surya, part of BJP’s similar wing, tried to rope in volunteers to help patients in distress. Having smelt “something fishy”, the young MP, reportedly hand-picked by the Modi-Shah combine in the last Lok Sabha polls, decided to investigate the whole process. Much to his dismay, officials denied him access to the COVID war room.
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Surya says he was startled to see what was happening when he dug deep.
‘First, those in the war room get hold of details of those testing positive, both asymptomatic and symptomatic. If asymptomatic, people were asked to be under home isolation, but beds were booked (blocked) in their names in different hospitals. In one instance, I found 12 hospital beds were booked in the name of one patient. Slots are being sold for higher prices as and when while the poor and needy wait outside hospitals for elusive beds,” said the MP, who is also president of BJP Yuva Morcha.
Acting swiftly, Bengaluru City Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said the case had been handed over to the Central Crime Branch for a detailed investigation. Two people have been arrested in the case.
Expectedly, the allegations have ruffled a few political feathers, especially because the state government and city corporation are ruled by the BJP, with the Opposition describing the whole incident “as orchestrated drama”.
“This whole drama is to protect the image of his political bosses. BBMP officers and workers are just scapegoats. I have exposed the Karnataka govt’s corruption many times since the pandemic broke out. I challenge Tejasvi Surya to urge Karnataka CM to initiate an investigation on all matters alleged by the former and Congress party,” Opposition leader Siddramaiah said in a series of tweets.
More drama and twist
There was more drama to unfurl. The MP also painted a communal picture of the whole incident by hand-picking names of 17 people from a minority community out of 200-odd staffers in the war room.
Armed with a list of names from a community, BJP MLAs Satish Reddy and Ravi Subramanya, led by Surya, barged into a BBMP COVID war room and asked officers if the civic body was “running a madrasa by recruiting only Muslims”.
The video of the trio questioning BBMP officials on what process was followed to recruit volunteers, just 17 of them, who all happened to be from the minority community, went viral on social media, garnering nationwide attention.
Questioning Surya’s intentions, Rajya Sabha MP from Ballari, Syed Naseer Hussain, asked if Surya investigated the role of those 17 people before accusing them of wrongdoings. “Before reading out those 17 names, did he investigate? And who gave a clean chit to the rest of the staff?” Hussain asked.