The Congress today cited a recent media report to allege "criminal culpability" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and senior officials of the ICMR in fudging COVID-19 data "to build a false narrative that everything was normal" ahead of the second wave, and demanded a judicial inquiry against them.
Citing The New York Times report which quoted former scientists of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to claim political interference in giving out data on COVID-19 and related deaths, senior spokesperson of the Congress Ajay Maken said this is a very serious issue and should be probed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a high court.
The government has rejected the media report with Niti Aayog member (health) V K Paul describing it as an "out of context report that is not desirable".
ICMR chief Balram Bhargava said, "This is a provocative, attention seeking article published at a time when India is doing good and our vaccination is excellent and it is diverting attention. All the issues raised are dead ones and probably do not merit any attention."
At a press conference, Mr Maken said former ICMR scientists have come out openly now and said that because of political interference, the data was fudged and a false narrative was built that everything is normal.
"We are demanding that a criminal investigation be carried out against the prime minister, against the former health minister and against senior officials of ICMR," he told reporters.
The Congress leader said this is a very serious issue that the scientists have raised and noted that the party has said earlier too that an inquiry is best conducted when it is a judicial inquiry conducted by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a high court under the supervision of the court.
"That is the best form of any investigation. There should be a criminal investigation under court supervision by a sitting judge as this is not a small matter," he said.
"We feel that it was because of this reason that the guard was lowered and the state governments were unprepared and so was the general public, because of which there were large number of avoidable deaths during the second wave of coronavirus that caused so much devastation," he said.
"We could have saved so many lives had the false narrative not started and hence it requires a criminal investigation," he said.
The Congress party will hit the streets on the issue as well as raise it in Parliament in the coming days, Mr Maken said.