INDIA. Mumbai: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) carried out raids on Wednesday at 16 locations as part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities surrounding the establishment of COVID-19 Care Jumbo Centres by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) during the pandemic.
Among those whose premises were searched were Sujit Patkar, a partner of “Lifeline Hospital Management Services” responsible for operating one of the centers and purportedly having close ties to Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray. Suraj Chavan, another Shiv Sena (UBT) leader, also had his premises raided.
BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, in his deposition before the ED earlier this year, refuted any wrongdoing in the management of the Mumbai Jumbo Covid Centres. He stated that Rs 33.13 crore was allocated for manpower at the Dahisar (North Mumbai) and NSCI, Worli (South Central Mumbai) Jumbo Covid centers.
Chahal emphasized that the Rs 100 crore scam allegation was baseless since the funds paid by the municipal corporation were solely for the salaries of doctors, nurses, technicians, and ward boys, as the centers were established by NGOs and other government agencies.
BMC, in a press release issued in January, highlighted its extensive efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from COVID-19. The BMC clarified that, as per the directives of the central and state governments, it had provided manpower for the operation and management of various jumbo Covid centers.
Following BMC’s letter, an offense was registered with the Azad Maidal Police in South Mumbai on August 24, 2022. This indicates that BMC took prompt administrative action upon receiving the complaints, as stated by the BMC.
Former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya had lodged a complaint asserting that “Lifeline Hospital Management Services” lacked the necessary expertise to run the center and had entered into a contract with the BMC to obtain Rs 38 crore. Dr. Hemant Gupta, Sujit Patkar, Sanjay Shah, and Raju Salunkhe were named as beneficiaries of the alleged scam. Somaiya estimated the magnitude of the scam to be around Rs 100 crore.
Based on the FIR filed on August 24, 2022, the ED conducted raids in locations such as Santacruz, Malad, Parel, Worli, and others. However, questions have been raised regarding whether the investigation into the financial irregularities in the Covid centers falls under the purview of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) 2002.
In response to the revelations of financial misappropriations in the BMC exposed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its recent findings, the Maharashtra Government has agreed to establish a special investigation team (SIT) to conduct a probe.
The CAG report, presented in March this year, uncovered a scam of Rs 12,000 crore in 76 projects undertaken by nine departments of the BMC.
In a countermove, the Shiv Sena (UBT) has announced a march to the BMC on July 1 to shed light on the irregularities within the corporation. The BMC has been under the administration’s control since March 8, 2022, following the end of the five-year term of the BMC House of 227 corporators on March 7, 2022.
During the announcement of the march, Thackeray expressed concerns about the BMC’s excessive fixed deposits, which amount to over Rs 92,000 crore. He criticized the state government for directing the administrator to spend the funds on futile projects.