The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), once a flag bearer of an anti-corruption battle, grapples with its own scandals as prominent figures face imprisonment and fresh allegations cast a shadow over its national ambitions. This comes amidst ongoing investigations into the ‘Liquor Scam’ and, more recently, the ‘Mohalla Clinic Scam’ in Delhi, both under AAP rule. Mohalla clinics, a flagship initiative of AAP government since their launch in 2015, aimed to provide medical care free of cost.
The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, finds himself personally embroiled in the Liquor Scam, facing multiple summons from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which he has refused to honour. While AAP dismisses these as politically motivated attacks, the string of scandals tarnishes their image and raises concerns about corruption within the party.
The Mohalla Clinic scam, echoing the Liquor Scam’s pattern, involves accusations of inflated numbers and potentially fake lab tests at the free primary healthcare clinics. The Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) has recommended a CBI probe, further intensifying scrutiny.
These developments threaten AAP’s national aspirations. They seek to project themselves as a viable alternative to the ruling BJP, but the stench of corruption hangs heavy.
Delhi’s Flagship Healthcare Initiative Under Scrutiny
Recently, a report revealing malpractices in laboratory tests conducted at Mohalla Clinics has prompted LG, V.K. Saxena to advocate for a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in the national capital.
The report brings to light two layers of malpractice, indicating that medical personnel at seven clinics utilised “fraudulent ways to mark their attendance through pre-recorded videos,” while non-medical staff were found prescribing tests for non-existent patients. This revelation follows a broader pattern of accusations and challenges facing the AAP government, which initially positioned itself as a staunch advocate against corruption.
Lieutenant Governor Advocates CBI Probe into Mohalla Clinic Irregularities
The health sector in the state has been under scrutiny, with the LG, Saxena, urging a CBI probe into the alleged fake lab tests conducted at Mohalla Clinics. This revelation comes on the heels of a prior scandal involving the supply of sub-standard medicines to government hospitals, raising concerns about the integrity of the health department.
Further investigations by the LG’s office unveiled that the AAP government had outsourced lab test services to Agilus Diagnostics and Metropolis Health Care. The findings indicate that substantial payments were made to private laboratories for numerous tests that were never carried out at the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinics (AAMC).
Shockingly, these tests were falsely recorded under the names of ghost patients, registered using fictitious phone numbers. The mounting allegations cast a shadow over the credibility of the AAP government’s healthcare initiatives, and the call for a CBI probe underscores the gravity of the situation.
The fake lab test scam was uncovered during a random monitoring ordered by LG, Saxena. The monitoring was initiated while clearing a file related to the extension of lab testing services to private entities for patients visiting Mohalla Clinics and Delhi Government Hospitals in December 2022. No impact assessment study or review report of the outsourced facilities, as recommended by the previous LG, was undertaken, prompting the random sample study.
The fraud was initially detected in August 2023 when it was revealed that staff at seven Mohalla Clinics engaged in unethical practices, including marking attendance through pre-recorded videos and providing consultations without the presence of authorised medical personnel. The affected Mohalla Clinics include Jaffar Kalan, Ujwa, Shikarpur, Gopal Nagar, Dhansa, Jagjeet Nagar, and Bihari Colony.
23,000+ Tests on Ghost Patients, Duplication, and Other Records Unearthed
Subsequent investigations exposed the recording of lab tests on ghost patients using fake and duplicate phone numbers, amounting to over 23,000 fake patients identified in just seven clinics within three months.
The respective Medical Officer In-charges at these Mohalla Clinics were found to have fraudulently marked their attendance through pre-recorded videos during specific periods, as Jagjeet Nagar Mohalla Clinic – January 2023 to June 2023, Bihari Colony Mohalla Clinic – July 2022 to March 2023, Jaffar Kalan Mohalla Clinic – June 2022 to January 2023, Dhansa Mohalla Clinic – July 2022 to March 2023, Ujwa Mohalla Clinic – August 2022 to March 2023, Shikarpur Mohalla Clinic – October 2022 to March 2023, Gopal Nagar Mohalla Clinic – August 2022 to March 2023.
During the period from February 2023 to September 2023, a total of 17,725 lab tests were conducted in these clinics, with Agilus Lab performing 15,463 tests for five Mohalla Clinics and Metropolis conducting 2,262 tests for two clinics. A general study of all tests by the two labs revealed a total of 6,06,837 lab tests, including 5,21,221 by Agilus and 85,616 by Metropolis.
In September 2023, corrective action was taken, leading to the de-empanelment of the implicated staff, and FIRs were lodged against them.
Subsequently, a review of sample lab testing data for the three months from July to September 2023 was conducted. This data, retrieved from both private service providers—Agilus Diagnostics and Metropolis Health Care—revealed the use of fake or non-existent mobile numbers for patient registration and subsequent lab tests. Additionally, instances of mobile number duplication were identified, indicating the occurrence of fraudulent lab tests in these Mohalla Clinics.
Specific Observations and Findings
During the period from February 2023 to September 2023, laboratory tests were conducted in five Mohalla Clinics (Jaffar Kalan, Ujwa, Shikarpur, Gopal Nagar, Dhansa) by Agilus Lab. The findings include 52 instances of tests ordered or done with blank mobile numbers, 358 with mobile numbers starting with 1,2,3,4,5 (non-existent in India), and 71 cases of mobile numbers repeated 15 or more times, totaling 15,463 tests.
In two other Mohalla Clinics (Jagjeet Nagar, Bihari Colony), tests were conducted by Metropolis Lab during the same period (Feb 2023 to Sept 2023). The data reveals 26 instances of tests ordered or done with mobile numbers repeated 10 or more times, resulting in a total of 2,262 tests.
For the period from July to September 2023, Metropolis Lab conducted tests with 3,092 records of different patients sharing the same mobile number (9999999999), 111 instances of mobile numbers repeated 15 or more times, and a total of 85,616 tests ordered or done.
During the same time frame (July to Sept 2023), Agilus Lab conducted tests with 11,657 records of different patients having only 0 digits in the mobile number column, 8,199 instances of different patients with a blank mobile number column, 42 cases of mobile numbers starting with 1,2,3,4,5, and 817 instances of mobile numbers repeated 15 or more times. The total tests ordered or done by Agilus Lab during this period amounted to 5,21,221.
Delayed Action At AAP’s End
Despite the gravity of the situation, the AAP government took no immediate action following recommendations by the LG, including the implementation of an online registration system and Aadhar-based/biometric tracking of patients.
In response, the LG recommended proceedings against the Project Director of Outsourced Lab Services and others for non-compliance. Additionally, a detailed Vigilance Enquiry was proposed to assess the extent of financial loss and collusion with private agencies.
The Vigilance Department’s findings revealed broader issues within the healthcare system, including irregularities in renting premises for Mohalla Clinics, lack of approval from the Finance Department for diagnostic lab services, and absence of a transparent accounting system for doctor and staff remuneration. These factors contributed to the recommendation to refer the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Furthermore, the vigilance report reveals that, despite the issuance of advertisements for renting locations to establish Mohalla Clinics, more than 50per cent of the premises were acquired through a selective process rather than following the advertised procedure. Additionally, the report highlights that the approval for diagnostic lab services was granted without the necessary consent from the Finance Department.
The compensation for doctors and staff is contingent on patient footfall, yet there has been no audit conducted, and a deficient accounting system is in place. The report emphasises that the number of patients visiting the premises or clinic is not systematically recorded in a transparent manner.
LG Slams AAP’s Lackadaisical Approach
LG Saxena criticised CM Kejriwal, asserting that despite his grand promises, he permitted a substantial scam to persist. Expressing deep disappointment, the LG highlighted the irresponsible and lackadaisical approach of successive Health Ministers and the Chief Minister towards public health. He emphasised that the recent revelations of spurious drugs and fake lab tests expose the harsh realities that contradict the government’s claims of providing world-class health infrastructure in Delhi.
In addition to unveiling this extensive scam, the LG shed light on the dismal state of healthcare under the Arvind Kejriwal government. While responding to the Delhi Health Department’s proposal to extend contracts with private labs for tests, the LG noted that it indicates a lack of infrastructure in government labs, even for basic pathological and diagnostic tests.
The LG stated, “While such decisions in remote places lacking facilities in terms of physical infrastructure and trained medical professionals would make sense, it does not meet the rational requirements for the capital. Government hospitals and facilities in Delhi, as often asserted by the government, are equipped with ample physical infrastructure, including buildings, space, machinery, and high-caliber medical professionals.”
LG Saxena also highlighted that his predecessor, Anil Baijal, emphasised the need to fortify the diagnostic infrastructure in the government setup, asserting that the public healthcare system should not be entirely entrusted to private entities. He criticised the government for proposing measures that would further harm the public health system through underutilisation, disuse, and neglect.
Saxena stressed the urgency of implementing an Aadhar-based and biometric tracking system for patients to prevent malpractices leading to financial impropriety.
Furthermore, LG Saxena pointed out discrepancies in the expansion of Mohalla Clinics, noting that while their number increased from 450 to 519 in 2022, the number of OPD patients per clinic dropped significantly from 3416 per month in 2021 to just 1824. Despite this decline in patient numbers, the reported diagnostic tests conducted by outsourced labs rose disproportionately from 6,30,978 tests per month in 2021 to 9,30,000 tests per month in 2022.
Notably, the revelations not only expose financial impropriety but also shed light on systemic deficiencies within the health sector. The scandal brings into question the commitment of the AAP government to provide quality healthcare to the public and underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reforms in the health infrastructure. The public health system’s integrity and the well-being of citizens are at stake, emphasising the critical importance of addressing these issues promptly and effectively.
Notably, the Union Home Ministry on January 5, ordered an inquiry by the CBI into the matter. Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj and AAP leader also commented on the operations of the Mohalla Clinics and questioned the BJP-led Centre “saving” its appointed health secretary of the national capital.