Bengaluru: Sixteen Muslim workers at the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) south zone war room, who were suspended after BJP MP Tejasvi Surya read out their names and questioned officials about their qualifications, have been reinstated with effect from Monday.
While seventeen workers were initially suspended, 16 of them were asked to report back to work. However, five have refused to return, saying they had been “targeted”, ThePrint has learnt.
The 17th name on the list, Dr Rehan, was arrested by the police last Thursday for his alleged links to a purported bed allocation scam highlighted by the BJP.
Rehan, a dentist, was a senior member of the south zone war room. Five others have been arrested in connection with the alleged cash-for-beds scam.
Bengaluru South MP Surya, along with three MLAs, had visited one of the two Bengaluru south zone Covid war rooms last Tuesday, and began admonishing officials while live-streaming the incident on Facebook. He read out the names of 17 Muslim workers, among the 206 deployed in the war room, and asked on what basis they were recruited.
Surya and his uncle, Basavanagudi MLA Ravi Subramanya, also accused officials of being partial to Muslims, and asked if it was a “madrassa”.
Following the political leaders’ actions, the staff members were immediately placed under suspension. They were summoned by the police Tuesday evening, and questioned till 3 am Wednesday.
The employees along with Shivu Naik, the manager of the agency that recruited staff for the war room, approached Tulasi Maddineni, BBMP’s Commissioner in-charge of the south zone war room, seeking her intervention.
Maddineni told ThePrint: “A few of the young men met me and said this was their only form of livelihood and they need some work. They pleaded that they needed to make a living. The agency has been directed to take them back, subject to the police investigation which is going on.”
She added: “When the police call them for questioning, they should present themselves at the police station. We have asked the agency to place them wherever necessary. It is not compulsory that they have to be placed here (BBMP south zone war room); they can be placed wherever the agency feels their services are needed.”
‘Just doing our jobs’
ThePrint spoke to a few of the Muslim staffers named by Tejasvi Surya.
Zameer Ahmed, who was among those taken for questioning by the police, said: “The police came to our house and took us to the station. They took our cell phones and checked all the call records and contacts we had. The police told us that we would be let off and even taken back to work if given a clean chit.”
A second staffer, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “We are being made scapegoats just because of our names. We are no terrorists. We are not at fault; just doing our jobs. Now we are being forced to prove our innocence for an act we did not even commit. We believe in being truthful and honest in our work. That’s what our families have instilled in us. We will overcome this; we have done nothing wrong.”
Meanwhile, Shivu Naik, the manager of the recruiting agency, said: “The police asked them their qualifications, their nature of work and checked their credentials. After having questioned us, they let us off. But they told us that they should report to the police as and when the investigation demands and they call them for further questioning.”
Naik also told mediapersons that five of the 16 reinstated workers refused to join back work because the experience left them “traumatised”.
Bed allocation scam probe
The BJP’s allegation of a “rampant” cash-for-beds scam in Bengaluru has been denied by senior BBMP officials. Though Tejasvi Surya did not explicitly link the Muslim Covid war room workers to the bed allocation scam, the timing of BJP’s exposé of the scam and the MP’s visit to the war room gave the opposition ammunition to say he is communalising the issue.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant told ThePrint: “We have taken up two cases suo motu, related to the allegations made on the possibility of a bed allocation scam. Investigations are underway, and as of now, we have arrested four suspects in both cases.”
A senior BBMP official explained the procedure for allocating beds, saying if a bed is allocated to ‘Patient A’ whose oxygen level is around 90, but another call is received by the war room and Patient B’s oxygen level is found below 65, obviously Patient B would be prioritised.
“Patient B needs the bed more. But if money is exchanged in the process, then it is corruption, and it definitely should be investigated and the guilty punished,” the official said.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)