New Delhi: Oxygen cylinders that never arrived, fake drugs and fake medical suppliers who did not deliver the goods after payment – the second aggressive wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India was accompanied by another widespread epidemic, fraud related to Covid. And a significant number of lawyers have been offering free legal advice and help to victims of such crimes.
As the pandemic attack overwhelmed health infrastructure across the country, people struggled to acquire medical supplies and social media became an important means of contacting suppliers. However, several people have complained of widespread fraud and cheating on the part of the contacts that have been circulating on these sites.
To deal with this growing problem, several lawyers met through social media and organized themselves into groups that now coordinate the filing of complaints at police stations across the country. These groups are also raising legal awareness of the measures that can be taken against these fraudulent contacts. All this assistance is being done pro bono or free of charge.
For Ramanuj Mukherjee, a 33-year-old businessman who became a lawyer, the initiative started with a post he had posted on the professional networking site LinkedIn.
Mukherjee’s post, which he posted two weeks ago, said: “A lot of people are deceiving patients and their families to supply oxygen, remive, tocilizumab and other needs … Thinking of creating a legal cell to get these people to the task. Does anyone want to collaborate? “
The call for collaboration led to the formation of a WhatsApp group that now has more than 100 lawyers and law students from across the country, who are ready to offer free legal advice and help in formulating strategies or filing complaints in such incidents.
Talking about his motivation behind the initiative called ‘Lawyers against Covifraud’, Mukherjee told ThePrint: “We cannot make oxygen or build fans, but the legal community can help to alleviate suffering in some ways. We are trying to do our part. “
Mukherjee has been working with online fraud cases since he started a help line to help victims of these cases in 2015. Through the help line, which he launched on his iPleaders blog, he realized that several of these scams and frauds phishing was carried out by people in distant cities. Therefore, presenting an FIR in the victim’s city does not help much.
“For example, someone in Tamil Nadu will be cheated by someone in Punjab. The Indian state police do not coordinate these crimes at the national level. Now, if you are betrayed, you will go to the local police station to file a complaint, but the local police would not go to such a distant place in some unknown district to catch the culprit, ”he explained, adding that sending police into this persecution of the wild goose also proves costly for the authorities.
Instead, according to Mukherjee, filing a complaint in the city where the fraudster’s bank account exists leads to a faster investigation and some people may even get their money back. This is the strategy that lawyers associated with ‘Lawyers against Covifraud’ are currently focusing on.
Police resistance impeding aid efforts
Mukherjee and his team set up an email ID (email@example.com) exclusively for this initiative about 10 days ago. Since then, they have managed to file 10 complaints in New Delhi, Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Calcutta and Noida, and have advised several victims.
The complaints were related to the non-administration of injections of remdesivir despite the payment, the non-administration of oxygen cylinders despite the payment and the administration of false injections disguised as remdesivir.
Commenting on the difficulties they faced, Mukherjee told ThePrint: “Sometimes, we face resistance from police officers. Sometimes they refuse to acknowledge the complaint or require the complainant to come to the police station in person, which is often impossible, as the victim may be Covid-positive or in a different state. “
His team has also approached the Delhi Cyber Cell with descriptions of these fraud cases. The matter is then referred to the police station in question and the complaint can be sent to the Chief of Police, the officer responsible for the police station.
Groups are also promoting on social media
Another group of lawyers called ‘India’s pro bono lawyers’ is also doing its part, spreading legal awareness through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to deal with these fraud cases. For example, one of your posts on Instagram explains the process of filing a complaint step by step before the consumer dispute repair forum.
Other publish talks about the actions that can be taken if a “spurious or incorrectly branded” drug is sold to someone. There are posts that list the steps to claim health insurance as well as the basic rights and safeguards for health providers as well.
The group, which met a week ago, currently consists of about 50 lawyers and aims to raise awareness, as well as serve as a platform to connect victims of fraud or those in need of legal advice related to a pandemic to lawyers. pro bono.
Garima Mitra, a Mumbai lawyer who is part of this group, told ThePrint that they have so far received a wide range of email and social media inquiries for legal help related to incorrectly branded drugs, not delivering cylinders despite payment , insurance claims, non-admission to hospitals, business-related questions related to pandemic relaxations and more.
‘As soon as the wave sets in, people may need legal advice’
According to Mukherjee, several people are hesitant to file complaints because of the circumstances of the pandemic.
“Naturally, there are deaths in the family or people are still recovering from Covid. There have been cases where people have also died waiting for the oxygen from these scammers, ”he told ThePrint.
Mitra also expressed similar concerns about people hesitating to enter legal disputes today.
“As soon as this wave starts to set in, people will start to take stock of what happened to them, and we think that’s when the real need for legal advice will increase,” she said.
The complaints so far have focused on provisions regarding cheating, dishonest embezzlement and breach of criminal trust, along with the provision of the 2000 Information Technology Act.
However, in cases where the patient has died due to non-delivery of essential drugs or devices by such swindlers, the FIR will also include the crime of manslaughter, which carries a penalty of 10 years of life in prison.
(Edited by Rachel John)