Wednesday’s busting of the kidney racket — the illegal buying and selling kidneys — is just a tip of the iceberg and the practice is rampant in Mandya and Ramanagaram districts, according to residents of Holalu, one of the bigger villages in Mandya district.

Holalu had grabbed the world media’s attention in January 2002 with the Mandya police discovered that 52 desperate people, including women and senior citizens, had sold their kidneys. The scandal led to the arrest of some touts and ‘donors’ in the village.

More than a decade later, residents insist such exploitation continues. They also point out that the sellers, after parting with their organs, had not benefited much from the transaction financially.

Selling and buying kidneys is a well-planned and sophisticated racket in Mandya and Ramanagaram districts, Venkatesha (not his real name) told this reporter when he visited Holalu on Thursday.

The kingpin in the 2002 racket ended his life by taking poison but others have smoothly moved into the business in Holalu, said Mr. Venkatesha, who had to endure grilling by security agencies in 2002.

Though Mr. Venkatesha, a Class 7 dropout, insisted he had been “just detained for questioning”, police officials said he was arrested for selling his own kidney besides lobbying with four others to part with their organs.

Another resident, who didn’t want to be named, said the kidney trade is not confined just to Holalu but is widespread in several villages in Mandya and Ramanagaram districts.

The main accused, who remains elusive and who was operating in Magadi taluk in Ramanagaram district, is a native of Mandya district. It is believed the racket is endemic in at least four neighbouring districts: Mandya, Ramanagaram, Tumkur and Bangalore Rural, said the Holalu resident, who himself had sold his kidney in 2001.

A farmer, whose wife had sold her kidney, spoke of being mired in debt mid-2001. He had planned to pawn his wife’s mangalasutra but an agent successfully convinced him to sell one of his kidneys. “Initially I had planned to sell my kidney. But, as I had jaundice, the agent told to sell my wife’s kidney.”

The agent created fake documents to facilitate the sale and the couple was promised Rs. 1 lakh for the kidney. However, the farmer lamented, the agent handed over only Rs. 60,000 after deducting his commission.

Well-known hospitals

In 2002, the agents conducted the business negotiations with both parties at the Ganapati Temple Circle (Holalu-Mandya Circle) off the Mandya-Melkote Main Road in Holalu.

Even today, they brazenly operate with the help of doctors at several well-known hospitals in Bangalore and some parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, residents said. Asked to comment, Mandya Superintendent of Police Koushalendra Kumar said: “The Ramanagaram police are yet to consult us in connection with the kidney selling racket that was busted on Wednesday.”