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Police uncover large scale organ trafficking in Punjab

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7382.180/b (Published 25 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:180
  1. Sanjay Kumar
  1. New Delhi

    The police in Amritsar city in Punjab state, northern India, have unearthed what they call “the mother of all scandals in human organ trafficking in India.”

    The police have arrested several doctors, middlemen, and donors, including the alleged main player—transplant surgeon Dr Parveen Kumar Sareen, who works for Kakkar Hospital, which is run by a private charitable trust. Also arrested was Dr O P Mahajan, principal of the Government Medical College and chairman of the authorisation committee that certifies that no commercial transaction has taken place.

    Police officials believe that 1.5 billion rupees (£19.4m; $31.4m; €29.4m) changed hands between the doctors, middlemen, and the donors from 1997 to 2002.

    The Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994 allows donation of organs between relatives but prohibits any monetary benefits to the donor. It also allows donation of organs (also without monetary benefit) between unrelated donors if this arises from love and affection for the patient. “It is this clause which was exploited by the racketeers to make millions,” said Satish Kumar Sharma, inspector general of police in Jalandhar.

    Between half a million and a million rupees were charged for each kidney transplant, Mr Sharma told the BMJ. Whereas doctors and middlemen cornered the major share of the money, the donors—mainly poor migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states—were given only 25000 rupees (£324; $523; €490) to 50000 rupees.

    Since 1995, 2384 kidney transplant procedures took place in Punjab, of which 1972 cases were approved in Amritsar. “Of these, 1522 procedures took place at the Kakkar Hospital,” said Mr Sharma.

    “The ‘donors’ were not even given proper postoperative care, and in some cases were threatened with imprisonment for the illegal act and thrown out of hospital a week after the transplant,” he said. He confirmed the deaths of six labourers as a result, although the numbers could be much higher, he added.

    The police are investigating 400 such cases but have said that most of the addresses of donors and recipients in the records are fake. The police claim to have seized signed authorisation certificates at Kakkar Hospital, where Dr Sareen works.

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