An in­sur­ance fraud that preyed on dis­ease, des­per­a­tion

PAY­ING WITH THEIR LIVES Be­tween 2017 and 2019, nearly hun­dred peo­ple from vil­lages in Haryana died in tragic but com­mon­place road ac­ci­dents. But did they re­ally?

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Spotlight - Snigdha Poonam and Leena Dhankhar let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

Of­fi­cially, Ajit Singh died in a road­ac­ci­den­t8km­fromhisvil­lage in Haryana’s Ro­htak dis­trict at 7am on April 1, 2018. It’s what his wife, Sat­wanti, who claimed to be present on the spot, re­ported at the Hisar Sadar po­lice sta­tion. His nephew, Sachin Dhull, ex­plained the chain of events in his state­ment to the po­lice: “My un­cle, Ajit, and my aunt, Sat­wanti, had gone to the vil­lage Dabra to check out a buf­falo for pur­chase. [While they were out] I was in­formed that a car hit my un­cle caus­ing an ac­ci­dent. Driv­ing care­lessly and at high speed, the driver of the [Hyundai] i-20 car (no: HR 31M 7380) hit my un­cle from be­hind. He died due to the in­juries from the ac­ci­dent. I have iden­ti­fied the dead body [at Civil Hos­pi­tal, Hisar]…. I re­quest the po­lice to find the name and ad­dress of the driver and ini­ti­ate le­gal ac­tion.”

On April 2, a re­port on the front page of the news­pa­per Hisar Ke­sari laid out more de­tails. “Ajit had climbed down from a bus and had barely taken a few steps when an uniden­ti­fied ve­hi­cle hit him. Ajit dropped down un­con­scious. The driver fled the scene. Ajit was taken, with the help of peo­ple present on the spot, to the hos­pi­tal where he was de­clared brought dead. The body has been handed over to his fam­ily af­ter a post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion.”

At 10.48am, the of­fi­cer in-charge at Hisar Sadar sta­tion reg­is­tered an FIR by Sat­wanti, and charged the uniden­ti­fied driver un­der Sec­tions 279 (rash driv­ing) and 304-A (death by neg­li­gence) of the In­dian Pe­nal Code. Five peo­ple known to the de­ceased iden­ti­fied his body at the mor­tu­ary, in­clud­ing his wife, older brother, and nephew. “The body is ly­ing on the stretcher. There is fresh blood on nose and mouth. The chest seems sunk on the right side,” read the panch­nama or po­lice’s record of ob­ser­va­tions.

The post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted at 12pm noted “clot­ted blood in both nos­trils and mouth”, “blue-colour bruise of ap­prox­i­mately 10 x 15 cm over right side of chest, mul­ti­ple rib frac­tures, lac­er­a­tion of lung tis­sue” and “mul­ti­ple abra­sions over both foot, el­bow, face and fore­head”.

Signed by the res­i­dent med­i­cal of­fi­cer at Civil Hos­pi­tal, Hisar, the post-mortem re­port put down the cause of death as “injury to vi­tal or­gans…suf­fi­cient to cause death in or­di­nary course of life”.

That set­tled the mat­ter. Ajit’s wife and rel­a­tives went home. The po­lice moved on. At least 150,000 peo­ple are killed in road ac­ci­dents in In­dia ev­ery year. Ajit hap­pened to be just an­other one — an or­di­nary end to an or­di­nary life. Back home, his wife in­for­mally mar­ried his older brother, Naseeb, in a com­mon turn of event in parts of ru­ral Haryana. They ex­pected no big changes to their life. Ex­cept one.

Days be­fore he was killed, Ajit had signed up for per­sonal ac­ci­dent in­sur­ance pol­icy with at least four com­pa­nies, at an av­er­age pre­mium of ₹5,000. An “ac­ci­den­tal death” would en­ti­tle his nom­i­nee to at least ₹25 lakh from one. In July 2018, Sat­wanti sent a let­ter to the ‘claims’ depart­ment of Ba­jaj Al­lianz. “I am in­form­ing you with deep re­gret that my hus­band Ajit has died in a road ac­ci­dent. I have at­tached all doc­u­ments re­lated to his death. Please ini­ti­ate the process of com­pen­sa­tion.”

CON­CRETE DOUBT

Some­time be­tween 2017 and 2018, many in­sur­ance agen­cies op­er­at­ing in Haryana be­gan to sus­pect a trend.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, Bharti AXA Gen­eral In­sur­ance re­ceived a stream of Per­sonal Ac­ci­den­tal Claims from Haryana. There was a strange com­mon­al­ity to them. “The nom­i­nee’s bank ac­count was opened just one or two months prior to buy­ing Bharti AXA Gen­eral In­sur­ance poli­cies. The PAN (Per­ma­nent Ac­count Num­ber) card of nom­i­nees was also is­sued just a cou­ple of months be­fore. In­ter­est­ingly, we found all the in­sured were farm­ers and they had never taken any per­sonal ac­ci­den­tal poli­cies in past,” said Aman Bedi, as­so­ciate vice-pres­i­dent, Fraud & Investigat­ion Unit, Bharti AXA. This wasn’t all. “As per med­i­cal doc­u­ments, we ob­served that all in­sured died due to head in­juries and they were brought dead to the hos­pi­tal. While scru­ti­n­is­ing these cases, we also found three com­mon mo­bile num­bers,” Bedi said. Sim­i­lar con­cerns were com­ing up at Ba­jaj Al­lianz. It was re­ceiv­ing “a lot” of cases from “Ro­htak and Sonepat” of per­sonal ac­ci­dents in which the gap be­tween buy­ing of pol­icy and press­ing of claim was too close. It had also no­ticed in the po­lice doc­u­ments, the ab­sence of eye­wit­nesses, pho­tos of the ac­ci­dent spots, and in­juries suf­fered by fel­low pas­sen­gers. Ex­ec­u­tives at Chola MS Gen­eral In­sur­ance had no­ticed that in four such claims re­ceived by the com­pany in 2017-18 “the de­ceased were in­sured for ₹10 lakh each, nei­ther for a higher value, nor for a lower value; the vic­tims were farm­ers by pro­fes­sion but pur­chased on­line poli­cies us­ing credit/ debit cards; and the poli­cies were bought one month prior to the deaths”. Mys­te­ri­ously, in all the four cases, the vic­tim was rid­ing pil­lion on a mo­tor­bike whose driver lost bal­ance be­cause of the sud­den emer­gence of an an­i­mal in front of the ve­hi­cle: buf­fa­los in two cases, a bull in one, and an an­te­lope in an­other.

The in­sur­ance firms were also notic­ing that the road ac­ci­dents killing their clients were be­ing re­ported at the same po­lice sta­tions in Sonepat, Jha­j­jar, Hisar and Panipat.Some­time in 2017, a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor (PI) in Haryana re­ceived “19 to 20” cases from “var­i­ous in­sur­ance com­pa­nies”. He reached out to the fam­i­lies, neigh­bours, doc­tors and po­lice of­fi­cers in each of these cases. No one was will­ing to talk, but he picked up some in­for­ma­tion. In 2018, he re­ported back to the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies say­ing that he had “con­crete doubt” that these deaths weren’t caused by road ac­ci­dents.

These farm­ers had died of can­cer. On April 5, 2019, Bharti AXA filed a com­plaint with the direc­tor gen­eral of po­lice in Panchkula, af­ter a year of in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, al­leg­ing that a gang of con­men had de­frauded the com­pany of crores of ru­pees. Sev­eral other in­sur­ance com­pa­nies fol­lowed with sim­i­lar com­plaints. The case was handed over to the Spe­cial Task Force (STF) of Haryana Po­lice. On April 20, af­ter two weeks of investigat­ion, STF ar­rested the mas­ter­mind of the scam and his two close aides from Sonepat.

Ev­ery­thing about the scam sounds strangely un­real. The Haryana-based gang al­legedly iden­ti­fied ter­mi­nal can­cer pa­tients from ru­ral, low-in­come back­grounds, got them to in­sure them­selves with mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies by hid­ing their con­di­tion, waited for them to die, and then put their dead bod­ies through “ac­ci­dents”. The gang kept a part of the in­sured sum, be­tween ₹8 and ₹20 lakh in each case, and dis­trib­uted the rest among its part­ners in crime: fam­ily mem­bers, po­lice of­fi­cers, record keep­ers, doc­tors, in­sur­ance agents, and pub­lic prose­cu­tors. At least 100 peo­ple have been ac­cused of be­ing com­plicit in the scam that al­legedly car­ried on for two years, ex­e­cuted nearly a 100 cases, and cheated more than 25 in­sur­ance com­pa­nies of over ₹100 crore, ac­cord­ing to STF.

HIT AND RUN

In Bhag­watipur vil­lage, ev­ery­one re­mem­bers Ajit Singh, but few are will­ing to talk about the cir­cum­stances of his death. Ex­cept for Bal­wan Dhull, his long­time neigh­bour who treated him like a younger brother. “He was di­ag­nosed with can­cer two or three years be­fore his death. His treat­ment was go­ing on in PGIMS (Post Grad­u­ate In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Science, Ro­htak),” said Dhull be­tween long drags on his hookah. He said he saw Singh shortly be­fore the lat­ter took his last breath. “At four in the morn­ing, I went to see him. He was feel­ing un­easy. He asked me to place his cot out un­der the sky. When I went back at 6 am, he was ly­ing dead. His wife was there.” Then, Dhull said, the “in­sur­ance­wale” showed up. “They took away his body.Unka ac­ci­dent dikha diya [they showed his death as an ac­ci­dent].” Dhull saw the dead body again af­ter a few hours. “We were called to the mor­tu­ary to iden­tify it. [This time] his body had in­juries from head to chest.” Like most peo­ple close to Ajit Singh, Bal­wan Dhull knew what was go­ing on. “Paise bana rahe the [they were mak­ing money off it].”

Very lit­tle is known yet about the mas­ter­mind of the scam. Pawan Ku­mar Bho­ria, 42, was born in Se­vali vil­lage in Haryana’s Sonepat dis­trict. At the time of his ar­rest, he was liv­ing in a rented apart­ment in a hous­ing so­ci­ety in Kundli on the Del­hiHaryana bor­der with his wife and two chil­dren. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from a Sonepat col­lege and an un­fin­ished course in law from Meerut Univer­sity, he be­gan to work for in­sur­ance agen­cies. Be­tween 2005 and 2015, he worked in three in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, start­ing as an agent and mov­ing on to han­dling cases that went to MACT (mo­tor ac­ci­dent claims tri­bunal). It was while work­ing at Reliance Gen­eral In­sur­ance, where he spent eight years, that he got the idea for the scam. “It was a unique strat­egy, and no one had ever thought of turn­ing deaths into ac­ci­dents,” he ex­plained to STF.

Cur­rently he and his seven-mem­ber gang — cousins, neph­ews, friends — are fac­ing charges un­der sec­tion 201 (de­struc­tion of ev­i­dence), 205 (false per­son­ation for pur­pose of act or pro­ceed­ing in suit or prosecutio­n), 34 (com­mon in­ten­tion), 420 (fraud), 464 (mak­ing a false doc­u­ment), 465 (forgery), 468 (forgery for pur­pose of cheat­ing), and 471 (us­ing forged doc­u­ment) of the In­dian Pe­nal Code at Civil Lines po­lice sta­tion in Sonepat.

Bho­ria be­gan the scam in 2015 by con­tact­ing the com­puter op­er­a­tor of the can­cer ward of the state’s largest pub­lic hos­pi­tal and buy­ing from him the de­tails of pa­tients go­ing through the last stage of throat can­cer. “The gang paid be­tween ₹10,000 and ₹15,000 per file to the op­er­a­tor at PGIMS, Ro­htak,” said direc­tor gen­eral of po­lice Satheesh Balan.

The com­puter op­er­a­tor at PGIMS was ar­rested on April 21. The in­sti­tute has ex­pressed “shock” at learn­ing that “some­one from PGIMS was also in­volved.” Dr Varun Arora, pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer at PGIMS, said the in­sti­tute has launched an in­ter­nal in­quiry. “We treat more than a lakh pa­tients per year, and their records are stored across dif­fer­ent wards based on the cat­e­gory of ail­ment.”

Armed with the names and ad­dresses of the ter­mi­nal pa­tients, Bho­ria and his gang went to their homes and pro­posed a lu­cra­tive deal. In most of the cases, it was mid­dle-aged men who were about to die of can­cer. Bho­ria and his aides re­minded the fam­ily of what they were set to lose with the death of the main work­ing mem­ber of the fam­ily, and what they could gain if they played their part in the scheme. They wouldn’t have to do much, the gang told the fam­i­lies. Their bank ac­counts would be opened, the min­i­mum amount put in, their PAN card ap­pli­ca­tions would be sub­mit­ted, in­sur­ance forms filled, even pre­mi­ums pro­vided for. STF’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the four cases brought up by Chola MS re­vealed that “all the in­sur­ance poli­cies were pur­chased through the same IP ad­dress, even though the de­ceased be­longed to dif­fer­ent dis­tricts”. All the fam­ily had to do was to say as they were told and to sign, or mark their thumb im­pres­sions at the ap­pro­pri­ate places. “In many cases, the fam­ily mem­bers turned down our of­fers. We used to tar­get at least 50 pa­tients a month out of which only 10 agreed to get in­sured,” Bho­ria told STF. As part of this deal, the pa­tient and their fam­ily also per­mit­ted Bho­ria and his gang to seize con­trol of the dead body and “kill” it in an ac­ci­dent. The most com­monly en­acted ac­ci­dent was a hit-and-run. “When the pa­tient would die, they would take the body to a spot and crush it with a ve­hi­cle to pass it off as an ac­ci­dent,” said KK Rao, in­spec­tor gen­eral of po­lice in the STF. On April 24, STF ar­rested Su­mit Ku­mar, the son of a can­cer vic­tim who died in De­cem­ber 2018, for fil­ing a false FIR for ac­ci­den­tal death of his fa­ther. He had filed claims with var­i­ous in­sur­ance com­pa­nies ag­gre­gat­ing to a sum of ₹1 crore. He re­ceived ₹2 lakh from the scam­sters, ac­cord­ing to STF. The po­lice re­cov­ered the cash from his house in Bal­lah vil­lage in Kar­nal dis­trict.

At times, it was the same car hit­ting “walk­ing” or “bike-borne” per­sons in dif­fer­ent dis­tricts and run­ning away from the spot. “The death of Dharamvir Singh on 11.4.2019 who was from vil­lage Kansala and suf­fered from can­cer was shown as be­ing caused by an ac­ci­dent. The car that is sup­posed to have hit him (HR 11 LL 4100 I-20) be­longs to Mo­hit [ac­com­plice of

ARMED WITH THE NAMES AND AD­DRESSES OF THE TER­MI­NAL PA­TIENTS, BHO­RIA AND HIS GANG WENT TO THEIR HOMES AND PRO­POSED A LU­CRA­TIVE DEAL. IN MOST CASES, IT WAS MID­DLE-AGED MEN WHO WERE ABOUT TO DIE OF CAN­CER

Pa­van Bho­ria]. In an ear­lier claim [re­ceived by Bharti AXA], the ac­ci­den­tal death of San­deep from Ut­tam Vi­har, Ro­htak, on 25.11.18. also in­volved the same car,” noted the FIR. “The dead bod­ies were car­ried to the ‘dead house’ even be­fore the po­lice was in­formed.”

The FIR also makes the cru­cial point that “the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer in both the cases was the head con­sta­ble Bal­bir Singh of Civil Lines sta­tion, Sonepat”.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, the ter­mi­nal pa­tients died a sec­ond time from “elec­tro­cu­tion”.

“This morn­ing at 5.30am my hus­band Li­la­ram plugged in a heat­ing rod to warm wa­ter for his bath. When I came back from the fields af­ter feed­ing our cat­tle, he was ly­ing face down on the bath­room floor. My rel­a­tives took his body to Civil Hos­pi­tal in Jha­j­jar where he was de­clared brought dead. My hus­band died from elec­tric cur­rent,” wrote Babli from Ahri vil­lage in Jha­j­jar dis­trict in her state­ment to the po­lice on Septem­ber 25, 2017.

She re­peated this ac­count in her let­ter of claim to Bharti AXA, em­pha­sis­ing that “my hus­band had no pre­vi­ous ill­ness” and “his death has left me in charge of our two chil­dren”. As at­tach­ments, she pro­vided a joint state­ment by her neigh­bours and rel­a­tives con­firm­ing that “Li­la­ram’s death hap­pened from elec­tric cur­rent” and that he “had no pre­vi­ous ill­ness”, a re­port from Civil Hos­pi­tal, Jha­j­jar, not­ing his “abra­sions and blis­ters”, and po­lice in­quest pa­pers show­ing “death due to elec­tro­cu­tion”.

Li­la­ram had suf­fered from the last stage of throat can­cer, ac­cord­ing to a copy of his case file in Ra­di­a­tion Cen­tre of PGIMS, Ro­htak. While the com­puter op­er­a­tor had ei­ther sold or de­stroyed the orig­i­nal records, some copies re­mained in cer­tain depart­ments where the treat­ment was go­ing on. They were found by the of­fi­cers of STF when they went to the PGIMS for a raid. The 40-year-old farmer didn’t die of elec­tric cur­rent. As KK Rao put it, “None of the eight pa­tients whose investigat­ion was con­ducted by the po­lice had met with an ac­ci­dent or suf­fered ex­ter­nal in­juries.”

THE MISS­ING MANDIBLE

Af­ter the dead bod­ies of the can­cer pa­tients were given in­juries through ac­ci­dents, STF of­fi­cers said the in­sur­ance con­men in­formed the po­lice of­fi­cers with whom they had al­ready struck a deal. Bho­ria had cul­ti­vated his con­tacts in Haryana Po­lice through a head con­sta­ble, Ashok Ku­mar, 30, at Kundli po­lice sta­tion in Sonepat who hap­pened to be an old friend of his. “In 2015, Bho­ria con­tacted Ashok and dis­cussed his plan and asked for help. Ashok used to con­tact the IOs (investigat­ion of­fcers) and con­vince them to join hands with Bho­ria,” said IGP Satheesh Balan of STF. Ashok Ku­mar was ar­rested on April 29.

“They of­fered ₹1 lakh to each in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­lice of­fi­cer,” said Balan. Their role was to trans­fer the ver­sion of their death by ac­ci­dent to pa­per – from FIR to wit­ness state­ments to record of ob­ser­va­tions sub­mit­ted for post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion. The post-mortem ex­am­in­ers were paid too, said Balan, for map­ping the po­lice’s ob­ser­va­tions of the ac­ci­dent on to the med­i­cal assess­ment of the bod­ies. “They of­fered ₹1.75 lakh to the doc­tor who con­ducted the post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion,” he said. None of the doc­tors who con­ducted the post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tion in the eight cases brought up by Bharti AXA and in­ves­ti­gated by STF used the C word. “There are ex­ter­nal changes in the pa­tients of throat can­cer be­cause they go through manda­tory ra­dio­ther­apy,” said Dr Ni­ran­jan Naik, can­cer spe­cial­ist at the For­tis Me­mo­rial Re­search In­sti­tute. “There is vis­i­ble thick­en­ing and dis­coloura­tion of the skin on their face and neck,” he said. The sus­pi­cion of throat can­cer wasn’t sig­nalled even in the case where a part of the jaw was miss­ing in the dead body brought for post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tion at PGIMS, Ro­htak.

Ramshresht­h Sahni, 38, of Ajmer Basti in Jind dis­trict died on July 4, 2017 in a road ac­ci­dent at 10.30 pm ac­cord­ing to the FIR lodged at Hisar Sadar sta­tion. On June 9, 2017 the farm worker had bought a “pre­mium per­sonal guard pol­icy” from Ba­jaj Al­lianz with an in­sured sum of ₹25 lakh. His body was taken to the PGIMS. “The [post-mortem] re­port said that ‘a skin de­fect of size 8 x 6 cm is present on the left An­tero­lat­eral as­pect of Neck, a lin­ear old healed scar is also vis­i­ble, and a por­tion of the Jaw bone is miss­ing at the left an­gle of Mandible’,” said San­jiv Dwivedi, who heads the Investigat­ion and Loss Mit­i­ga­tion at Ba­jaj Al­lianz. Sus­pi­cious, he and his team went to the PGIMS ask­ing if the hos­pi­tal has any pre­vi­ous treat­ment records for Sahni. “The hos­pi­tal re­fused to share them with us.”

Upon fil­ing a Right To In­for­ma­tion (RTI) ap­pli­ca­tion for pro­cure­ment of the de­ceased’s health-re­lated doc­u­ments, “the hos­pi­tal de­nied the re­quest men­tion­ing the con­fi­den­tial­ity of the doc­u­ment,” he said. “When we ap­proached the post-mortem depart­ment of the hos­pi­tal with queries re­lated to the miss­ing mandible and the scar, the doc­tors re­fused to en­ter­tain us.” The po­lice was no more forth­com­ing. “Our team vis­ited the Ro­htak po­lice sta­tion mul­ti­ple times to get de­tails of the ac­ci­dent but no one pro­vided any de­tails. They told us it was a hit-and-run case by an un­known ve­hi­cle. There was no eye­wit­ness in the case. The ac­ci­dent de­tails were miss­ing and a body part was also miss­ing,” Dwivedi said. Dwivedi and his col­leagues went to Sahni’s vil­lage to ask around.

His land­lord had a dif­fer­ent story to tell. “Ramshresht­h Sahni from Bi­har was my ten­ant for 10 years. He died in July 2017 in the course of his treat­ment for can­cer at PGIMS,” Ri­shipal wrote in a state­ment made to Ba­jaj Al­lianz. At the lo­cal An­gan­wadi cen­tre, the team found in death records of vil­lage res­i­dents the “cause” for Ramshresht­h Sahni’s demise: can­cer.

His wife, Renu Sahni, said she wasn’t aware that his death was shown as ac­ci­den­tal. She said it was an in­sur­ance agent who had dealt with the doc­u­ments.

“We have ar­rested peo­ple who had ma­jor stakes, and oth­ers will be ar­rested soon. We are fo­cus­ing on the doc­tors who are in­volved in mul­ti­ple post-mortems and the po­lice­men who were in­volved in more than one case,” said Haryana’s direc­tor gen­eral of po­lice (DGP), Manoj Ya­dava. STF is cur­rently look­ing into the sus­pected par­tic­i­pa­tion of 12 po­lice of­fi­cers and 10 gov­ern­ment doc­tors in the scam.

On April 21, STF ar­rested the com­puter op­er­a­tor at Civil Hos­pi­tal, Sonepat, Pramod Ku­mar, for en­abling the col­lu­sion be­tween the con­men and the doc­tors who con­ducted the post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tions. On April 30, Am­buj Jain, a doc­tor at the same hos­pi­tal who had con­ducted the post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tions in some of the cases un­der investigat­ion, moved a pe­ti­tion for an­tic­i­pa­tory bail. Ash­wani Ku­mar, prin­ci­pal med­i­cal of­fi­cer, re­futed all al­le­ga­tions con­cern­ing Civil Hos­pi­tal, Sonepat. “The main cul­prits are the po­lice and the fam­ily mem­bers. They should be ar­rested in this case, not the doc­tors. If an ac­ci­dent case is brought to the doc­tor for post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion, he will have to con­duct it. A doc­tor’s job is to check the in­juries caus­ing death and sub­mit the re­port based on the in­juries found on the body,” he said, adding that if the po­lice ar­rested a sin­gle doc­tor, all of them would go on a strike.

How­ever, STF of­fi­cers said they have enough sub­stance to frame charges against doc­tors who worked in col­lu­sion with the gang. “There are call records, wit­nesses and state­ments which prove them guilty,” said Balan. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the com­plaint from Aman Bedi of Bharti AXA, STF be­gan to tap phone calls be­tween mem­bers of the gang. “The com­plainant had pro­vided the mo­bile num­bers of the suspects and we started in­ter­cept­ing three mo­bile num­bers,” said KK Rao. The con­ver­sa­tions noted in the FIR demon­strate the co­or­di­na­tion be­tween var­i­ous play­ers in the scam:

“In code word, Mo­hit is talk­ing about a case in which some­one’s throat is get­ting worse and his PAN card needs to be ap­plied for.”

“Pawan is talk­ing to Padam, say­ing that pol­icy is done with PNB, Reliance, SBI and LIC. He says ICICI, HDFC and Birla are left to do.”

“They are talk­ing about a po­lice of­fi­cer ask­ing for an ad­di­tional ₹20,000. They are say­ing they have set­tled the pay­ment with the hos­pi­tal.”

Aware of the in­quiries be­ing made about them, Bho­ria is also heard as telling one of his col­leagues that “we will put in ₹2 crore and have the DSP trans­ferred”.

As in­ves­ti­ga­tions pro­ceed, more peo­ple ap­pear to be in­volved in the scam than what was orig­i­nally sus­pected. “If any case gets stuck, they used to bribe the investigat­ion agent of the pri­vate in­sur­ance com­pany and ask him to sub­mit a re­port in their favour. If any claim went to the court, they paid the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor,” said Balan. “If any­one has sub­mit­ted the pos­i­tive re­port for any such a fraud case, we will sup­port the po­lice and will de­mand strin­gent pun­ish­ment,” said Dwivedi of Ba­jaj Al­lianz.

“This is a big case, but we will make sure no one walks away,” said DGP Ya­dava.

MIN­I­MUM GAINS

It was an in­ge­nious scam, but also one that re­lied on the easy cor­rupt­ibil­ity of peo­ple in charge of the lives and deaths of poor and il­lit­er­ate vil­lagers. In fact, it be­gan with bring­ing them on board. Not all con­spir­ing fam­i­lies have ended up richer. Some of them claim not to know what they did was il­le­gal. “My nephew did as he was told by Pawan, which was to call him up af­ter the death of his fa­ther and to bring his body to Sonepat Civil Hos­pi­tal where he had al­ready man­aged to show it as an ac­ci­den­tal death in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the doc­tor and the po­lice,” said Mukesh Mann, a 43-year-old farmer in Bal­lah vil­lage. His nephew, a stu­dent at the lo­cal In­dus­trial Train­ing In­sti­tute, was ar­rested by STF for fil­ing a false FIR about the death of his fa­ther.

Sachin Dhull,26, nephew of Ajit Singh from Bhag­watipur and prime wit­ness of his death by ac­ci­dent, says his un­cle died of can­cer. “The in­sur­ance agent had asked me to in­form him af­ter his death so we called him on April 1, 2018. They asked us to come to Civil Hos­pi­tal, Hisar, as they had to get the post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion done for the in­sur­ance claim,” he said. Sachin said he signed the doc­u­ments be­cause he was told they were needed to com­plete the le­gal for­mal­i­ties to ini­ti­ate the in­sur­ance claim. He didn’t read any of them be­fore sign­ing. He said it was the in­sur­ance agents who pre­sented his un­cle’s death as ac­ci­dent-re­lated. “It’s wrong if they are say­ing that I was in­volved in any kind of fraud as I don’t even have any cheque book or ATM card of any ac­count. The ac­count was opened by them,” he said. Sachin said he is cur­rently un­em­ployed and strug­gling to get by.

Ajit Singh’s wife, Sat­wanti, died in April. Bal­wan Dhull said she had been suf­fer­ing from AIDS. Her ac­count with YES bank in Ro­htak has only ₹11, 357 —just a lit­tle more than the min­i­mum amount de­posited at the time of its open­ing.

ON APRIL 21, STF AR­RESTED THE COM­PUTER OP­ER­A­TOR AT CIVIL HOS­PI­TAL, SONEPAT FOR EN­ABLING THE COL­LU­SION BE­TWEEN THE CON­MEN AND THE DOC­TORS

WHO CON­DUCTED POST-MORTEM EX­AM­I­NA­TIONS

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: GA­JANAN NIR­PHALE

a for­mer in­sur­ance agent born in Se­vali, Sonepat

BURHAAN KINU/HT PHO­TOS

A view of the Re­gional Can­cer Cen­tre of PGIMS in Haryana’s Ro­htak. The scam be­gan with the mas­ter­mind buy­ing the records of last-stage can­cer pa­tients from the com­puter op­er­a­tor. Some of the al­leged gang mem­bers and their ac­com­plices af­ter be­ing ar­rested by the Spe­cial Task Force of the Haryana Po­lice in April. All eight mem­bers of the gang have been charged with fraud, forgery as well as de­struc­tion of ev­i­dence.

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