Bedlam in Bengaluru
THE WEEK|May 23, 2021
Amid a political slugfest triggered by Tejasvi Surya, Karnataka desperately tries to shore up its creaky Covid response system
PRATHIMA NANDAKUMAR

KARNATAKA HAS been under siege since the second wave of the pandemic struck in April. New cases have been surging, from 4,231 on April 1 to 47,930 on May 9. The worst-hit has been Bengaluru, where critical patients are being ferried from one hospital to another in search of oxygen, ventilators and ICU facilities.

The desperation is such that some people even drove ambulances, carrying their loved ones who were gasping for breath, to the chief minister’s residence. Amid the healthcare logjam, even the city’s high and mighty are finding it difficult to find beds and treatment facilities.

Since the state government had been in a stupor for months, even aggressive efforts to pool treatment facilities could ensure only 11,693 hospital beds across Bengaluru. People are battling not just the virus, but a complacent and allegedly corrupt administrative system.

Tejasvi Surya, Bengaluru South MP and BJP leader, recently said he had unearthed a bed allocation scam in a Covid-19 war room run by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). More shocking than the allegation itself was that Surya gave a “communal twist” to it, naming 17 Muslim workers who were part of the war room, demanding to know how they were recruited, and alleging that there was rampant corruption in allotting beds.

The allegation caused a furore; the accused were soon suspended and investigation ordered. While Surya has been accused of playing communal politics, his allegation has inadvertently paved the way for the much-needed systemic reforms that Bengaluru urgently needs. Every day, around 20,000 new cases are reported in the city, while more than 8,000 patients (and nearly 19,000 across the state) have died.

It was on May 4 that Surya and three BJP legislators—Satish Reddy of Bommanahalli, Ravi Subrahmanya of Basavanagudi and Uday Garudachar of Chikpet—entered the Covid war room in the city’s south zone. During their inspection, which was live-streamed, they apparently found that more than 4,000 hospital beds that were blocked from being allowed were “automatically unblocked”.

“During the audit, we noticed that 4,065 beds had undergone auto-unblocking,” said Surya. “We called up the patients against whose name the beds were initially [booked] and learnt that they were all in-home isolation. They were never admitted to the hospital. A single BU number (each person who tests positive gets a BU number) of a patient in home isolation was used to block five to 20 beds, which were then sold to other patients for a hefty sum.”

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