Kolkata: For at least 12 days, a man claiming to be an IAS officer and joint commissioner of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), had been orginising Covid vaccination camps in the city for “transgenders and differently-abled persons”. He even invited actor-MP Mimi Chakraborty to take her shot at one of the camps “to motivate people”, and she obliged. At least 472 people got their shots at these camps, free of charge.
It has now come to light that all these vaccine doses were fake. The vials with ‘Covishied’ and ‘Covaxin’ labels were actually of Amikacin injections, an antibiotic.
The Kolkata Police registered a suo motu case after Mimi Chakraborty flagged her concerns with the local civic authorities. While she did not report any adverse health issue, what made her doubtful was the fact that she did not receive the mandatory SMS one is supposed to get after vaccination.
Debanjan Deb, the man who organised the camps, has been arrested under relevant IPC sections for impersonation and cheating, as the police said he is neither an IAS officer, nor a KMC joint commissioner. They also said the actual number of fake Covid vaccine recipients could be higher as they are still tracking the people who got the shots at these camps.
Deb organised camps at prominent places in south and north Kolkata, which included a KMC-run market in Kasba and the government-aided City College on Amherst Street. There was at least one more venue where the camp was held, according to the police.
While the case was first registered at the Kasba police station, the Kolkata Police’s detective department took it over Thursday. They raided Deb’s office premises in central Kolkata and seized a large number of Amikacin vials, fake labels of Covishield and Covaxin, and also Amikacin vials with fake Covishield label, said a senior Kolkata Police officer who is probing the case.
Amikacin is used to treat certain bacteria-caused serious infections such as meningitis (infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and infections of the blood, abdomen (stomach area), lungs, skin, bones, joints, and urinary tract.
Deb’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have multiple photographs of him with senior Trinamool leaders and ministers, including Transport Minister Firhad Hakim — the former Kolkata mayor and now chairman of the board of administrators of KMC — besides Panchayat and Rural Affairs Minister Subrata Mukherjee and MP Santanu Sen.
All three claimed they don’t know Deb personally.
Three separate FIRs have been lodged against Deb at Kasba, New Market and Armherst Street police stations. The KMC said it has initiated an “internal inquiry” into the matter.
Who is Debanjan Deb and how he pulled off the fraud
Debanjan Deb calls himself a ‘public servant’ in his Twitter bio. His timeline is full of posts shared by Hakim, the KMC handle and others, besides reports about government schemes and other news items. He also posted photographs of himself distributing masks and sanitisers at the government’s ‘Duare Sarkar’ camps.
Speaking to media , Firhad Hakim said he was not familiar with Deb. “I do not know him. We as ministers and political persons attend many public programmes. We cannot track who gets a picture with us,” he said.
Minister Subrata Mukherjee and MP Santanu Sen also denied knowing Deb.
Atin Ghosh, MLA and outgoing deputy mayor, said: “The case has been taken up by the Kolkata Police. We are also holding an internal inquiry.”
Ghosh, who is a senior member of the KMC’s board of administrators, added: “KMC teams will go to the residences of the fake vaccine recipients to check on their health status.”
Deb, son of a retired senior excise official, did not charge money from anyone for the vaccine, the police said.
According to the police, he did his schooling from Taki House, Sealdah, and went to Charu Chandra College where he studied zoology. He enrolled himself for a course in genetics at Calcutta University but dropped out later. Deb also left midway a distant education programme from Vidyasagar University.
He claims that he started making music albums and documentaries, such as Mon-Pakhi, Boiled Childhood, one of the investigators told ThePrint.
“We are still investigating. It is a developing incident now. We are yet to ascertain the motive and the source of such funding. He had spent several lakhs to stock masks and PPE during the first wave of Covid pandemic. Later, he spent huge money to procure such injections,” said a second senior Kolkata Police officer in the Kolkata Police detective department.
He also said Deb used to have armed guards and moved around in a car with fake government plates.
He used fake logos, letterheads, and pads of the KMC for holding the camps, to get permission from the City College principal, and to procure the Amikacin vials from chemists.
During the raid in Deb’s office, the police found several copies of fake Covishield and Covaxin labels in his computer, said the first senior officer quoted above.
How the scam was unearthed
It all started after Trinamool MP and actor Mimi Chakraborty was invited by Deb to the camp at Kasba.
In her statement, Chakraborty said she was told that it was a vaccination drive organised for transgenders and differently-abled persons, and that she was requested to attend the camp and get a shot to motivate others and encourage vaccination.
The KMC is vaccinating possible super-spreaders as a priority group, and these include hawkers, shopkeepers, drivers, transport workers, among others.
The Lok Sabha MP took her shot, but got suspicious after she did not receive the SMS that everyone gets after the Covid vaccine is administered. On enquiry, she found out that none of the people who got vaccinated at the camp received the mandatory SMS. Chakraborty then flagged the issue with the local civic authorities.
During a preliminary investigation, the KMC, the state health department and the Kolkata Police did not find the existence of any such camp in official documents. A suo motu case was then registered by the police Wednesday, and Deb was immediately arrested.
He has also been charged with criminal conspiracy.
During interrogation, the police said, Deb revealed Kolkata’s City College and KMC-run Kasba New Market were among the venues for his camps.
The police said City College authorities furnished letters from the KMC seeking permission to hold the camp on the college premises. “The letters were fake, but it was a fine copy. No one could understand it. The college authorities and the market committee took it as KMC order. He (Deb) introduced himself as a special commissioner of the KMC,” said the second officer quoted above.