A man from the slums of Narasaraopeta in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh was lured two weeks ago by an agent of a super-specialty hospital to donate a kidney to 55-year-old Shiva Nageswar Rao. In October 2017 a donor was located for the patient, but the hospital rejected it as the donor was not a blood relative of the patient.
Agents of the hospital then hatched a scheme with the connivance of the Village Revenue Officers to fake the Aadhar card of the donor. The Aadhar card of Venkatesh Naik a tribal, was morphed with the photo of another person Ravuri Ravi Chowdary, allegedly a commercial donor for the kidney patient.
AP police have arrested Venkateswara Naik, K Babu Rao, Nagamalleswar Rao and two others in the fake Aadhar linked kidney racket.
Ramavath Venkateswara Naik was arrested near Durgi mandal of Narasaraopeta. Cases have been booked against him under Sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 470 IPC (false document or record), for having volunteered under the name of Ravuri Ravi Chowdary to give his kidney to the patient suffering from end-stage renal disease.
Debt ridden farmers and the rural poor of Palnadu region of Andhra Pradesh have found a way to survive on one kidney and the organ has become their solution to redeem their long pending debts which have accrued over years mostly due to crop failures, daughters’ weddings and alcoholism.
In the latest case, the scam runs to the top echelons of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP). A TDP leader and industrialist Kapilvai Vijay Kumar is said to be behind the scam, as he influenced the VRO to turn a blind eye, sign the application and issue the certificate granting approval for the kidney transplant. The application was sent to police verification later where the sleuths checked the veracity of the Aadhar card with a ‘barcoding app’. The scam was out in the open.
Sources said that the doctor of the super-specialty Vedanta Hospital, was a relative of the TDP leader Kapilavai Vijay Kumar. Both the doctor and the TDP leader allegedly influenced the VRO to give a favourable report on the application of Ravuri Ravi alias Venkatesh Naik. Since the VRO had given a good report, both the MRO Vijaya Kumari and her RDO signed the certificate in good faith.
But the police probe under DSP K Nageswar Rao brought out the fake nature of the Aadhar. Meanwhile, the rich patient sensing trouble, walked out of the Vedanta Hospital and got into Ayush Hospital in Guntur, underwent a kidney transplant provided by another donor last week and is reported to be safe.
Speaking to The Lede, MRO Vijaya Kumari said they went by the VRO report and issued the certificate but later the police verification proved them wrong. “We have filed a complaint with the Narasaraopeta police which is under investigation. Now both the VRO and the fake Aaadhar based donor Ravuri Ravi are absconding. It seems just a loose link of a big scam and we have sought records of all kidney operations in Narararaopeta town during last one year for full investigations,” said DSP Nageswar Rao to The Lede.
Déjà vu in Andhra
Last fortnight’s exposure of the fake Aadhar card has opened a can of worms on a well-oiled racket in the central province of the Coastal Andhra districts of Prakasam, Guntur and Nellore. Reports in 2008 had unraveled how debt-ridden farmers had accepted payments of Rs 1-2 lakhs for kidney operations to tide over their huge debts caused by crop failures and pressure of private money lenders. “The farmers and donors were so desperate that they refused to listen to good counsel and also cautions of health hazards,” said Bollapragada Sridevi, who runs the Sister Nivedita Seva Samiti NGO and a BJP activist in the coastal town.
An organ transplantation act (THOA) was passed in 1994 and amended in 2008, 2010 and 2014 with the sole objective of regulation of removal, storage and transplantation of human organs for therapeutic purposes and for prevention of commercial dealings in human organs.
Unless a donor is a blood relative, the application has to be endorsed by the district collector and also a district committee set up for processing the human organ transplantations. There is a huge shortage of organs in India and patients die while on the waiting list. Around 7.85 million people in India suffer from chronic kidney failure. At present, the approximate prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease is 800 per million population and the incidence of end-stage kidney disease is 150-200 per million population. Nearly 3500 kidney transplants are done annually as against the need for 21,000 transplants.
As per law, there are three degrees of donors. The immediate family members of the recipient are called first degree donors and for transplantation of a kidney from these members, prior permission is not required from the government. Members from immediate next family – cousins, in-laws, uncle, and aunt, are part of second-degree donors and friends are called third-degree donors.
A dire situation was sought to be eased in 2007 by the then Congress regime of YS Rajasekhar Reddy. He has included transplantation under the Rajiv Arogyasri Scheme, a state government free medical insurance scheme. The only documents required were a BPL certificate and health card issued for the poor by the Congress government which allocated over Rs 2750 crore for the health scheme.
But the state government scheme to pay for hospital treatment of the poor has led to an organ racket, with many private hospitals duping illiterate young men and women and removing their kidneys and uterus for illegal sale, a minister acknowledged in private to The Lede.
According to reports in 2010 altogether 12,000 kidneys transplants were done in private hospitals. An Indian Institute of Health and Family Welfare survey had revealed last month that 70% of operations under the scheme in Krishna, Prakasam and Nellore districts had been hysterectomies.
Now after a decade and a half, the ghost of the kidney racket mafia has returned to haunt Palnadu. According to reports, about 30-40 farmers of Rentachintala, Durgi, Dachepalli, Gurazala, Macherla, Veldurthi mandals have fallen prey to the offers of the agents of corporate hospitals in the last one year.
Police say the agents bag around Rs 10-20 lakhs from the needy patients and pay a meager Rs 4-5 lakhs to the donors after the surgery under the guise of spending for clearances. Another Rs 50,000 is given for medical expenses and a package of medicines for a month are handed over to the donors when they go back home.
AP Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas of the BJP says that the reason for the big kidney sale racket that surfaced in the Palnadu area between 1998 and 2000 had been the lure of agents and the lopsided scheme of the Congress government which encouraged hospitals for such activity.
The Palnadu area, comprises Macherla, Kambhampadu, Rentachintala, Dachepalli and Piduguralla blocks dominated by big farmers who lease out their land to landless farmers in the arid lands. They collect lease amount of Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per acre in advance from tenant farmers, who have to bear the risk of cultivation with the crop.
The 20 odd reports of illegal kidney racket since October 2017 in the Palnadu region have triggered rumours of demand for kidneys and the scouting of the kidney agents. But DSP Nageswar Rao says that the department is investigating and teams have been pressed at all Super Specialty hospitals and rural areas to get at the scamsters and agents who lure poor youth to sell their kidneys with an offer of lakhs of rupees. “It is a coordinated activity of revenue, hospitals and agricultural offices and this is where we begin our investigations,” he told The Lede.