New Delhi: An official from Fortis, a doctor from a prominent Delhi hospital, clientele from as far as Turkey, and poor ‘donors’ from Uttar Pradesh – it’s suspected to be a massive kidney trade racket that spans not just several Indian states but also a number of countries.
It’s allegedly worth several crores and investigators believe what they have unearthed so far is “just the tip of the iceberg”.
The net of the alleged racket widened this week when UP police arrested Sonika Dabas, a kidney transplant coordinator at Faridabad’s super speciality Fortis Hospital, in connection with the crime Tuesday.
Dabas’s arrest came close on the heels of another detention by the UP police last week when it nabbed Dipak Shukla, a high-profile surgeon and chief executive officer at Delhi-based Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute (PSRI) Hospital.
Rajesh Yadav, superintendent of police (crime), Kanpur, called Shukla’s arrest “just the tip of the iceberg”.
The arrested men have been accused of luring poor donors to donate their kidney in exchange for a few lakh rupees or a job in a town. And they allegedly did it through a professional network of touts and hospital staff.
Kanpur Police says it got whiff of the alleged crime in February after “getting a tip-off on a gang casually discussing its plot at a local restaurant”.
“They looked for gullible people. For instance, we found a case where a man needed money to get his daughter married. He was offered Rs 5 lakh,” Yadav said.
Donors were generally offered Rs 2.5-5 lakh. On the other side were relatives of seriously ill people, desperate for a donor and willing to pay even up to Rs 80 lakh, police said.
“They charged these families a phenomenal amount of money ranging from Rs 22.5 lakh to Rs 80 lakh,” said Yadav, who is leading the investigation. “The remaining money, which is a profit of up to 70 per cent on the sale of a kidney, was then distributed among doctors, touts and hospitals at pre-decided ratios.”
Both Dabas and Shukla were detained in Delhi and have been sent to judicial custody in Kanpur district prison.
In a statement to ThePrint, PSRI Hospital said, “We are extending our full cooperation to the ongoing investigation and will continue to do so going forward.”
Fortis Hospital said it “has a zero tolerance policy against all malpractices. In connection with this case, further details are awaited.”
“We will cooperate fully with the authorities and the police in their probe. As a responsible organisation, we comply with all aspects of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act and Rules and adhere to all instructions issued by NOTTO (National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organization, working under the aegis of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare),” Fortis added.
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Racket and extent
Kidney transplant rackets are detected every few years and doctors and police said such networks thrive because of the huge demand for the organ. Tough laws governing kidney donation have led to a scarcity of donors in the country, they said.
According to estimates of the Lucknow-based premier nephrology hospital, Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, around 31,000 people in Uttar Pradesh needed kidney transplants last year.
However, only 150 transplants could be completed due to unavailability of donors.
The latest alleged racket, which police say has existed for over six years and across three states — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana — exploited these shortages.
Shukla’s name, suspect for long, emerged during the interrogation of several donors over the last few months. He has been booked for cheating, wrongful confinement, trafficking, criminal conspiracy and under sections of the Transplantation of the Human Organs Act, 1994.
Kolkata businessman T. Rajkumar Rao is alleged to be the mastermind and was arrested in New Delhi in February.
How it worked
The allegedly well-oiled network of doctors, middlemen and hospitals was operating at multiple levels. The DNA labs of these hospitals also allegedly played a key role in supporting the illegal harvesting of kidneys.
There are three types of donors allowed under the Act — first liners (blood relatives), second liners (close to blood but not genetic, say spouse, etc.) and outsider liners (those who fall outside the immediate kin).
Every hospital that is authorised for organ transplants must have an authorisation committee in place that approves and looks at all the documents of the donor. The organ coordinator — after conducting a screening of the donor — sends across the requisite information to the committee.
As part of the alleged organ harvesting racket, local kidney ‘donors’ were trapped by touts operating outside various private hospitals on the pretext of jobs or money.
The most critical documents “include DNA samples of the donor” and these were found to be “fudged” in cases that are part of the investigation.
“In one case, a random donor’s kidney was transplanted into the recipient but the documents mentioned the name of wife as donor. It clearly shows that DNA departments at these hospitals were also hand in glove with the crime,” said Yadav.
During the probe, the police also allegedly found files of patients at Fortis Hospital where the submitted identity documents didn’t match the original identity of donors and the recipients.
“For instance, at Fortis, a man’s wife was shown as his donor for kidney transplant. However, on verifying, it was found there were no people by the names given. Fake ID cards including Aadhaar were shown as proof,” said Yadav.
So far, a dozen arrests have been made in places like Badarpur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Lucknow, Kanpur and New Delhi.
“Dabas has been charged with organ trafficking, cheating and criminal conspiracy under relevant sections of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act,” Yadav said.
The persons arrested used to coordinate with three coordinators — one of whom was Dabas from Fortis. The other two — Sunita Prabhakaran and Mithun — from PSRI have already secured a stay on their arrest from court after the Kanpur police sent them notices, said Yadav.
Kanpur police officers have also launched a massive hunt for the gang’s alleged global face, Dr Ketan Kaushik, a private practitioner who is absconding.
“He brought patients from Sri Lanka, Turkey and other countries in the Gulf,” said Yadav, adding that the international clientele was approached by a different group of persons.
“This is also because the organ transplantation laws are not as strict or rigid in other countries unlike India. This makes international clients an easy option for those running the racket.”
The probe was launched in February after an electrician’s wife, who went to a local hospital for a job interview, allegedly overheard a conversation about her kidney and complained to the police. To speed up the investigations, a Special Investigation Team was formed in March.
UP police expects to make more arrests in the coming days including doctors, touts and hospital management staff who are suspected to be part of the racket, Yadav said.
“Influential people like politicians and businessmen are also on our radar,” he said without elaborating.
A top Delhi-based nephrologist at a government hospital said, “The news of a racket like this is not going to discourage people from opting for a kidney transplant procedure.”
“However, this most certainly indicates the dire need of increasing awareness about organ donation in India and removing the stigma around pledging your organs,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told ThePrint.
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There are facebook groups and pages dedicated to sourcing and peddling their kidneys. A group of desperate people in need for money and middlemen all part of these groups. Why look elsewhere, the police can quiet easily follow these leads and get to more such shady operations.
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