Kolkata: Little was real about the universe Debanjan Deb, the man arrested last week for orchestrating fake Covid vaccination camps in the city, built around himself, according to the Kolkata Police investigation so far.
Deb allegedly faked his identity as an IAS officer and joint commissioner of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). He organised fake raids on businesses, issued fake tenders worth crores in the KMC’s name, and ran a fake “Kolkata Urban Planning” office with 15-18 employees, said police sources.
Deb, the sources said, had once harboured IAS ambitions, driven by his father who retired as a deputy director of the excise department. His journey as an alleged con is believed to have begun soon after he attempted the UPSC exam in 2014 but failed.
He told his family and friends that he had cleared the exam and, since 2015, was keeping up the charade.
Part of the lie came undone before his family last year. As a group of people accused Deb of cheating, his father discovered he wasn’t an IAS officer, police sources said.
The entire web of deceit fell through when he was found to be responsible for at least two fake vaccination camps where beneficiaries were allegedly being injected with an antibiotic instead of the Covid vaccine dose.
The fake camps came to light when Trinamool Congress MP Mimi Chakraborty, invited by Deb to a vaccination drive at Kasba, approached police after she did not receive the confirmation SMS mandatorily sent out to all Covid vaccine beneficiaries.
Over the past six days, at least four cases have been registered against Deb at four different police stations, based on complaints by government agencies including the KMC and the Kolkata Police. The sections invoked include attempt to murder. Two more persons were arrested Monday night, including his cousin Kanchan Deb and assistant Sarat Patra, for allegedly aiding Deb.
While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Monday that Mimi had felt unwell for a brief period but was now doing better, none of the other vaccine recipients is believed to have reported any adverse effects from the shot received at camps organised by Deb. Police sources said all the recipients are being observed by Kolkata Police and the KMC.
‘Employees paid salaries on time’
Speaking to ThePrint, officers of the Kolkata Police shared some details of the investigation so far.
In his guise as a civil servant and employee of the KMC, Deb, the police sources said, conducted raids to seize “adulterated petrol”, and issued “tenders worth crores” for the construction of stadia in the city. The police have allegedly found eight bank accounts associated with Deb.
One of these, a source said, was a current account with a private bank in the name of the KMC.
The money that he took from businessmen, primarily contractors, promising them selection for a particular tender, was deposited into this account, the police sources said.
One of the accounts was in the name of a company he is believed to have set up — M/S WBFINCORP — through which he paid out salary to his staff.
According to the police sources, he recruited around 15-18 “employees” through written and verbal tests, and all of them were paid their “salaries” on time.
Quoting Deb’s statements to the police, the sources said, he took an office space in south Kolkata’s Kasba for Rs 65,000/month rent in September 2020. “Some of his employees told us that they had to pay him to get a job. He took the money as a token and then they were employed under him. His accounts are reflecting transactions of around Rs 2 crore since 2020. He has taken a loan of Rs 20 lakh from ICICI Bank, submitting forged documents,” said a senior police officer.
To make himself look “credible” to his employees, he conducted a fake election among his workers and some outsiders. When they voted him the winner, the sources said, Deb reached a local newspaper to publish a news item where he was identified as the winner of the election to the “West Bengal Employees Federation”, playing on the name of the most prominent union of government employees in the state.
The police suspect Deb had help from “acquaintances” in government offices. This allowed him to sustain such a large and fake operation for so long, said the senior Kolkata Police officer, adding that the “role of some government offices is now under the scanner”.
The vaccination camps
Deb, according to the police sources, started preparing for the vaccination camps around three to four months ago.
“He claimed that he wrote a letter to a Serum Institute official for sending Covishield. He created a fake email account as email@example.com (actual KMC domain name is kmcgov.in),” said a second senior police officer.
As of now, the officer added, Deb has confessed to organising only two camps — one at City College and the other at his office in Kasba.
Raids at the Kasba office have led investigators to seize a huge number of fake stamps for different government departments, including KMC, I&CA (Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs), PWD (Public Works Department), and WBSEC (West Bengal State Election Commission).
None of those who attended the camps is believed to have been charged money, and the police are still looking into the potential motive.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called for the strictest action possible against the perpetrators, saying “frauds” who play with people’s lives are not humans to her.
“I have been talking to the Commissioner of Kolkata Police and I have instructed him to take the strictest action possible against such people. Nobody with any connection to this scam should be spared. They do not deserve to be part of a sane society,” said Banerjee.
“I am shocked to see such audacity of an individual who has forged signatures of so many senior officials and ministers, established such a kingdom of fakery,” she added in an address to reporters Monday.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)