Bengaluru: Close to a month into the investigation into the controversial bed allocation scam in Bengaluru, the city police have arrested 14 persons including a doctor so far. While it was alleged that the scam was carried out by an organized syndicate, the investigation has revealed most of the arrested people were operating on their own.
Out of these 14 arrested, 11 were made by the Central Crime Branch (CCB) and three by the central division police. The arrested were made under three different FIRs, two of which are handled by the CCB and one by the central division.
The arrested suspects include a doctor, war room call attenders, a politician’s aide, private hospital staff and a contractor employed by the government. While the modus operandi of the arrested people has been the same, police have not been able to find a common link between all the arrests. In each arrest, either one person or a group of three, who had access to the bed booking system tried to sell beds.
The common modus operandi was to call up the Covid-19 patients with BU number to find out if they are asymptomatic and in-home isolation. The beds are then booked against that particular BU number. This blocked bed automatically got unblocked if the patient does not turn up at the hospital within 12 hours. This bed is now manually re-allocated to the patients referred by the agents. Police say in the case, they had figured the loophole on their own.
The first arrest in the case related to Covid war rooms in the Bengaluru was made on May 4. According to the CCB, the arrested suspects during the initial phase of the probe – Dr Rehan and Shashi Kumar – were working in the bed allotment section of the south war room and Bommanahalli war room respectively.
During the initial investigation, the name of one Dr Suresh was on the suspect list of the police, however, he is currently not part of the 11 people under CCB custody.
The next set of arrests were also made on May 4 but in the second FIR. The arrests were made by Jayanagar police, and the case was handed over to the CCB. The arrested persons were identified as Netravati, a social worker, and Rohith Kumar, her nephew. According to CCB, they were caught charging ₹20,000 to ₹40,000 for each bed.
It was in connection with this case, on May 25, the CCB arrested Babu, who is alleged to be the aide of BJP MLA Satish Reddy. A senior CCB officer said that during the interrogation of Netravathi and Rohit, they got leads on Babu. The probe showed that using his links with doctors and telephone operators in the Bengaluru South war room, he got bed blocked and sold them to the aunt-nephew duo for a price.
“Babu gained access to the war room claiming to be Reddy’s close aide. Since he was seen with the MLA at the centre before, it helped him” the officer said.
Even though his name was available to cops as soon as the duo was arrested, but since he was Covid-19 positive, he could not be arrested, said the officer.
Meanwhile, all other arrests were made in the first FIR. On May 9, CCB arrested Shashidhar, a contract employee with Arogya Mitra, which comes under the health department. “He was one of the many liaison officers deployed at various hospitals to oversee the allocation of bed. Using his influence in the hospital, he reserved some beds. He used the help of private hospital employees Uma Rani and Venkoba Rao for this. “Rao and Rani were working as staff members at Sparsh Hospital (RR Nagar) and Punya Hospital (Basaveshwar Nagar),” said the officer.
Days after this arrest, on May 26, CCB arrested a marketing executive of Sapthagiri Hospital identified as Anthony after he took money for providing a bed in private hospitals. He has no associates as per the investigation.
A day later, CCB arrested Varun S, a call attender at the south war room and his associate Yashwant Kumar. “Varun on a call promised a bed in a private hospital to those calling the BBMP helpline for bed. He could provide them Yashwant’s number and ask them to contact him for a bed,” the officer added.
While the CCB probe was underway, based on a tip-off, the Central Division of Bengaluru City Police had earlier arrested three people, who were offering a bed for a price. MN Anuchet (DCP, Central) said that the arrested allegedly extorted ₹1.2 lakh from a person for an ICU bed. The complainant, whose father was admitted to Ramaiah Hospital, transferred ₹50,000 via Google Pay and handed another ₹70,000 in cash. Police identified those arrested as Venkata Subba Rao, Manjunath and Punith.
Sandeep Patil, the head of CCB said that their teams have been arresting those people based on the information that is available to them. “So far, there is nothing connecting all those who have been arrested so far, except for the modus operandi. We can’t say at this point in time that all of them were operating for the kingpin, rather these are individual cases. We are continuing our probe,” Patil said.
The CCB officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that they have not found any links or instances of the people for the different cases interacting with each other. “They are from different parts of the city. I think as the bed demand increases, those who knew how to rig the system tried to make some quick money is what we have learnt so far,” he said.