Bed allocation scam: Tejasvi Surya apologizes for accusing Muslim workers
Facing the wrath of Bengaluru's civil society for "communalizing" an alleged bed allocation scam by the civic body, Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya visited the Bengaluru south zone war room on Thursday to apologize for his actions. Surya's clarification came two days after his inspection of the war room, where he singled out 16 Muslim workers and accused them of blocking COVID-19 beds.
Around 7 pm on Thursday, Surya visited the Bengaluru South COVID war room and apologized, The News Minute reported. "I am sorry, it was a mistake on my part. I was given a list and I read it," he said, referring to a list of 16 Muslim workers accused in the scam. "I didn't see whether it was Hindu or Muslim," he reportedly said.
Surya told the Deccan Herald, "Two days before I went to the war room (May 2), the (BBMP) Joint Commissioner informed me that he had removed a few people and gave me the list." "I merely read out those names and asked how they were appointed, on what basis, and by which agency. I never made any allegations against any of them," he added.
Surya held a press conference on Tuesday evening alleging "widespread corruption" in hospital bed allocation. The press conference was live-streamed. In over 4,000 instances, there was a "bribe-for-beds" scam involving Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials, third-party agents, and war room employees, he said. Hospital beds were being booked in the names of asymptomatic infected individuals—without their knowledge—and sold at higher prices, he added.
IMPORTANT Addressing issues of irregularities and anomalies in BBMP bed booking for covid patients in Bengaluru along with Bommanahalli MLA Shri. Satish Reddy, Basavanagudi MLA Shri. Ravi Subramanya and Chickpet MLA Shri. Uday Garudachar. https://t.co/mzjjiQq7AP— Tejasvi Surya (@Tejasvi_Surya) May 4, 2021
After the presser, a video went viral where Surya can be seen reading out the names of 16 Muslim employees, demanding their qualifications from the hiring agency. He is accompanied by MLAs Satish Reddy, Uday Garudachar, and Ravi Subramanya. Subramanya can be heard saying, "Are you hiring for a corporation or a madrassa?" On social media, the employees were quickly branded as "terrorists."
This despicable guy #tejasvisurya has a problem in these short staffed #Covid times with the appointment of Muslim staff? That’s his priority! Playing communal politics in the pandemic is an utter shame!!! Shame!!!pic.twitter.com/mjjboZScUW— Sangita (@Sanginamby) May 5, 2021
Shivu Naik—the manager of Crystal Infosystems and Services, the contractor who staffs this war room—said the workers have been suspended until the police give them a clean chit, the Herald reported. "Even if we know they are innocent, we have decided to keep their job on hold because if someone is called for an inquiry...the war room will face a problem," he said.
According to News18, only one of the 16 accused members was part of the bed allocation team. This worker had reportedly joined temporarily last week to replace another who had a personal emergency at home. The 15 others were involved in indexing, home isolation supervision, and discharge of patients. Naik said there is no reason why the 16 were targeted from a 212-member team.
One of the accused staffers told the Herald, "We were taken by police at about 10 pm and released at around 3.30 am...I know that I have not done anything." He said, "But what will I tell my family and how do I explain it? I felt terrible. In the middle of all these, we were receiving threats on WhatsApp and other social media."
According to TNM, the 200-plus people in the war room are now facing harassment—including sexual harassment—telephonically. Their personal information has been leaked online. One caller reportedly asked, "Is there a Muslim call receiver next to you? How many more are they going to kill?" Some workers started receiving visits to their home addresses with people asking about bribes for hospital beds.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had said on Tuesday that he will act "mercilessly" against the hospitals, management, and government officials who are found to be involved in the scam. Deputy CM CN Ashwathnarayan said that people found allotting beds for money would be arrested under the Goonda Act. "Nodal officers from the police department will be deployed to supervise such issues," he said.
The Opposition Congress on Thursday attacked the ruling BJP in Karnataka and demanded Surya's arrest alleging that his party was behind the bed-blocking scam. "I congratulate MP Tejasvi Surya, MLAs Satish Reddy, Ravi Subramanya & Uday Garudachar for EXPOSING CORRUPTION in bed allocation by their party govt & corporation," Karnataka Congress President DK Shivakumar had earlier tweeted.
"Tejasvi Surya, why are you extending your dirty habit of dragging caste/religion to everything from the food we eat to human life, even to Corona? The communal virus in your brain is more dangerous than coronavirus. Please seek treatment for it," Siddaramaiah tweeted in Kannada.
A group of civil society organizations in the city also wrote to the CM, noting that the accused employees have "lost their source of livelihoods in these dire times," The Indian Express reported. "These elected representatives, all from your party, should have filed a police complaint and ensured that the matter is quickly investigated and the guilty brought to book," their letter stated.
"All our attention should be in containing the (pandemic-related) crisis, alleviating the suffering... It is up to the CM, and senior Opposition leaders to stand up and stop this poison and venom immediately," renowned historian Ramachandra Guha was quoted as saying to The Indian Express.