He was using the registration number of a doctor from Karnataka, identified as Dr Stephen Antony, who has been abroad since 2009. Tea estate sources said the fake doctor, Simon Nag, was working as a medical officer in Mokalbari since 2018.
The forgery was detected by Dr. Abhijit Neog of a Guwahati-based hospital. It was Neog, who established contact with the real Dr Stephen Antony, the original registration number holder, who is now practicing in Singapore. Antony graduated from St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru in 2006 and got his registration from Medical Council of India in 2007.
“I checked the details of the original registration number holder in Indian Medical Registry where the permanent address of the doctor is Malleswaram in Bengaluru. I was surprised at the Singapore connection with a Dibrugarh tea garden,” said Neog. He said in last three to four years, about 12 such cases has been detected in Assam. About a week ago, a few of Neog’s juniors had informed him about the suspicious nature of the fake doctor, when the administration ramped up Covid vigilance in the tea gardens. Plagued by illiteracy, a large chunk of garden workers hardly maintained the Covid protocols. Over 2,000 positive cases were tested in Dibrugarh tea gardens in second wave and 611 active cases were reported as of Wednesday.
This is not the first time when such cases of fake doctors has been brought to the fore but at a time when the second wave of Covid has had terrible impact in the tea belt of upper Assam, arrest of the fake doctor has brought to light the deeply-rooted lacunas in the health system. “Identity theft of doctors is not new in India. Mostly, doctors working in remote locations or abroad are targeted,” Neog added.
Medical sources said that the modus operandi is to identify themselves as specialist doctors. “Usually people don’t suspect the qualification of specialist doctors,” the source added.
In Assam, there is a post of medical inspector (plantations) to check the health infrastructure and manpower in tea gardens. However, the arrest of the fake doctor has also raised question mark over genuineness of the scrutiny of the health practitioners offering healthcare services to the tea garden workers. “Once I get the police report, an enquiry will be conducted. In socio-economic indicators and health parameters, tea workers are on a weaker footing. This makes them vulnerable to Covid infection,” said Dibrugarh DC Pallav Gopal Jha.
The accused, Simon Nag, admitted before the media that he never passed MBBS but had passed matric exam. “I prescribed medicines like a doctor. I don’t know where is the confusion. I will produce my original documents before the court,” Nag said.
It may become a prolonged battle in the court of law but the justice will elude the tea workers if the tea garden managements don’t take a lesson from the Mokalbari incident.
Police sources told TOI that it has confirmed with the school, where he studied, that Nag did not pass the matric exam. “He does not have a degree to treat patients in the capacity of an MBBS doctor,” a senior police official said.
Police filed a suo moto case against the fake doctor but suspect an involvement of a bigger racket. “During investigation it was found that Nag had flunked his class 10 exam in 2003 from Bindhakota High School, Dibrugarh securing only 137 marks overall. From 2009 he has been serving as a doctor and had served in several big tea estates before joining Mokalbari tea estate,” police sources said. “Indeed he was also a very popular among patients. But how did he came to know about the genuine registration number? Someone may have guided him,” police said.