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Kidney trade reaps grim harvest

Imran Gowhar
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The recent police crackdown in Ramnagaram on organ trading resulted in the arrest of a few middlemen, who were found to have lured donors to part with their kidneys for a pittance. But the arrests and investigations have not deterred the touts who run a thriving organ trade business right here, under the very nose of the city police.

A team from The Hindu posed as relatives of a woman in need of an urgent kidney transplant . The meeting with a “kidney-agent” — who boasted that he was a “senior in the field working for the last 25 years” — stretched over two sessions on consecutive days. What emerged from the encounter was a picture of a flourishing trade in kidneys, orchestrated from the heart of Bangalore, where a recipient with deep pockets could source a kidney without difficulty.

With an ever-growing pool of the impoverished and indebted joining the cash-for-kidney queue — for reasons as seemingly mundane as funding a daughter’s marriage, repaying loan taken from a microcredit institution, or paying hospital bill — supply will always meet demand. The 2011 amendments to the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (1994) have made it even easier to buy a kidney from an unrelated donor. Authorisation Committees that clear live transplants can now be set up by the hospital that conducts the transplant, and the mechanism of forging false identification papers is a well-oiled one.

Our agent, Roshan (name changed) told us that a recipient would have to cough up “nearly Rs. 17 lakh” for a kidney. This would include Roshan’s share of Rs. 12 lakh, which would cover his costs of finding a “fit” donor, paying him/her, and arranging fake documents (ration and voter ID cards, and police address verification). The hospital package, we were told, was between Rs. 2.5 lakh and Rs. 3 lakh. The remaining sum would be used, if required, for hospital emergency.

“Although I have been doing this for 25 years, I have not been caught by the police even once,” he boasted as he sat with us in a Maruti van near a chaat stall in the bustling Shivajinagar area. “This is because I do a pucca job, leaving no room for suspicion.”

Uplifted perhaps by our admiring expressions, he went on: “I get nearly 200-300 transplants done in a year. You ask my former clients. I always take customers referred by a former patient, never directly.” [This claim could not be true as the total number of recorded transplants performed in Karnataka was 350 in 2012, and 275 in 2011.]

There are “maintenance costs” to be paid apart from the Rs. 17 lakh, Roshan told us. The donor and family have to be maintained for three months in a house near that of the recipient, who has to pay for their food, clothing and other requirements. Roshan would ensure that the police certify the donor and recipient as relations. He will also arrange for a fake ration and voter identity card.

“Everything will appear legal. One of my people will be with you to get the clearances from government offices ... You will not face any problem. In fact, the officials will make you sit and offer you tea/coffee while they clear your file,” he said, adding that he and his people would tutor the donor and his family on what to say before the officials and the authorisation committees. “ We will also give you a written list of the exact questions that will be asked by the authorisation committee. You just go inside the committee hall with your eyes closed and come out with the permission,” he said.

“Now we have these committees in the hospitals itself,” he said, naming some leading private hospitals. [Interrupting our conversation, he scolded a client on his mobile, stating that “the doctor” at a leading hospital “was waiting, and called me to ask why you had not gone to see him.”]

Pointing out that the entire process of completing paper work and clearances would take 20 days, Roshan offered to expedite the process and get it done within 15 days if ‘our patient’ needed the kidney urgently.

When we asked about the donors, he said that they were “poor people deep in debt who have only two choices — sell their organs for money or commit suicide.”

He said that they came from Bangalore, Hubli, Dharwad, Gadag, Raichur and places in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

“After the free check up post-transplant, the donor will not see you again.”

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