As Maharashtra prepares for another wave of crippling lockdown, with the coronavirus cases in the state rising at an alarming rate, an investigation by Mid-Day found out that there are many tours and travel operators in Mumbai helping people who want to escape out of the state with a bogus RTPCR test result.
In sting operations carried out at Ghatkopar’s Gopal Bhuvan stop and at Borivli’s SGNP bus stop, Mid-Day found that tours and travel agents are issuing fraudulent COVID-19 negative test reports for as low as Rs 300-Rs 500 for people wanting to travel to Gujarat and Rajasthan.
With the resurgence of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, many states, including Gujarat and Rajasthan, have made it compulsory for people to carry a negative RTPCR test result on arrival. However, the tours and travel operators in Mumbai found a unique way of bypassing this regulation by issuing bogus negative RTPCR test results to the travellers travelling out of Maharashtra.
A tour bus operator was busted by the Crime Branch in Mira Road on Tuesday morning for providing passengers with fake COVID-19 certificates. However, the report published by Mid-Day alleges that the businesses of other travel agents remained unaffected.
While the workers on the buses claimed that the test reports are required only at checkpoints while crossing over from Maharashtra to Gujarat, the driver of a bus going to Udaipur said that if the security is too tight, they would make arrangements to help people with fake reports cross the checkpoints in a vehicle with a local number plate. Assuming that local vehicles have residents from the area, the authorities do not check them. The passengers board the bus again after crossing the checkpoint.
The tour operators at Borivali were confident of themselves and said that they would take the responsibility if things went awry, the report said. They assured that their fake certificates were more powerful than the genuine certificates as they had arrangements in place with the cops posted on state borders who allow them to jump lines while those adhering to rules have to wait several hours in the queue, as per the Mid-Day report.
The report carried transcript of a conversation between the mid-day reporter and a certain Ramesh bhai of Maruti Nandan travel in Ghatkopar. During the conversation, when probed if he could a fake negative RTPCR test, Ramesh Bhai responds in affirmative, stating that he could get a report which would be enough for the passenger to cross the border. He asks Rs 500 from the reporter to get the report.
In its investigation, Mid-Day also came across Manik and Sanket of Sanket Travels, Rohit Jaiswal of Falcon Bus line and London Pari bus’s cleaner Rathod and driver, who all admit to providing forged RTPCR test reports for passengers to help them cross border checkpoints.
Mira Road police seize a bus with fake COVID-19 negative certificates, 38 booked
The Mira Road police yesterday caught a bus ferrying passengers to Surat with bogus COVID-19 test reports. 38 people, including the bus owner, two drivers, a cleaner and two agents were booked for violating rules.
The police claimed that as the coronavirus outbreak is becoming severe in Maharashtra, too many people are trying to leave Mumbai. The tours and travel operators are using this catastrophe as an opportunity to line their pockets, the police said. They are resorting to all kinds of unethical practices to make money, the police added.
“We recovered fake RT-PCR reports issued by three laboratories from 20 passengers. The remaining 12 travellers said they had been charged Rs 300 Rs 500 in the name of fake certificates but were issued nothing,” said a police officer.
However, despite the crackdown by the police against a Pawan Travels bus, Mid-Day correspondents found that few agents booking tickets for Gujarat and Rajasthan at the Borivali East near SGNP were offering fake COVID-19 test certificates for Rs 500 per person.
BMC officials at Mumbai airport took bribes from international passengers to allow escape from mandatory quarantine
Earlier last week, another investigative report published by Mid-Day revealed how the BMC officials at the Mumbai airport were helping people flying from abroad escape the mandatory quarantine period.
For as much as Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000, a handful of civic officials at the Mumbai international airport were reported to have allowed passengers from abroad to escape the compulsory seven-day institutional quarantine. The investigation by Mid-Day brought to fore shocking lapses by BMC officials deployed at the airport, whose job is to ensure passengers from the UK, Europe, Middle East and South Africa undergo the mandatory 7-day institutional quarantine. These were amongst nations that reported new fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus.
The news daily found that an elaborate arrangement was in place for passengers travelling from foreign countries to slip away from the airport without undergoing mandatory quarantine. In its investigation, the newspaper discovered that far from ensuring that passengers were sent to mandatory quarantine, the BMC officials at the airport actively helped them to escape.