Centre asks West Bengal not to block its teams on Covid-19 situation

Health workers wearing protective suits walk on a street during their door-to-door survey to detect COVID-19 positive cases amid a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Kolkata
Just a day after deputing two inter-ministerial central teams (IMCT) to take note of the Covid-19 situation in West Bengal, the Centre alleged that the state government is restricting them from carrying out their duties.

In a letter addressed to West Bengal’s chief secretary, Rajiva Sinha, the union home ministry wrote, “It has been brought to the notice of this ministry (union home ministry) that both the IMCTs, at Kolkata and Jalpaiguri respectively, have not been provided with the requisite cooperation by the state and local authorities. In fact, they have been specifically restrained from making any visits, interacting with health professionals, and assessing the ground level situation”.

Two IMCTs were deputed by the Centre on Monday to conduct a spot assessment of the Covid-19 situation in West Bengal and issue necessary directions to the state government to redress the situation. They are also required to submit their report to the Centre.

The decision came in wake of alleged lockdown violations, attacks on frontline medical workers and movement of passenger vehicles in the state among others.

West Bengal’s chief minister, opposing the decision, had written a letter to the Centre alleging “protocol violation”. On a social media platform, she said that valid reasons should be provided by the Centre failing which her administration will not be “able to move ahead on this”.

West Bengal’s chief secretary, Rajiva Sinha, complaining of protocol violations by the Centre said, “We are helping the IMCT. With a situation like Covid-19, everyone is busy but even then we are making time to cooperate with the IMCT. We are in this state and IMCTs coming from outside can’t tell us how to handle a lockdown”.

Meanwhile, the blame-game and political uproar started with the chief minister’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, a TMC parliamentarian, taking to the social media to attack the Centre. 

“You cripple government of West Bengal with faulty kits from ICMR and then send IMCTs to monitor government of West Bengal’s performance while keeping the state government in the dark. In the name of combating the Covid-19 crisis, you're playing with the lives of Bengalis while your leaders use skewed testing nos for fake propaganda," he said on a social media platform.

The opposition, BJP and CPI-M have been repeatedly attacking Mamata Banerjee over low testing rates in the state which may result in silent (asymptomatic) carriers going undetected.

TMC parliamentarian Derek O’Brien also took to the social media to attack the Centre. “States, including (West) Bengal, going all out-fighting Corona. Unfortunately, central government is going all out-fighting the states! Is this the spirit of federalism? Is this what our Constitution says? Let’s make handling health emergency our priority. Politics can wait till winter," he said.

Even as her party accused the Centre of violating federal norms, Mamata Banerjee, after shooting off the letter to the Centre, chose to remain silent on Tuesday.

As lockdown measures hardened in parts of Kolkata, Howrah, 24 Parganas North and East Midnapore – all red zones – Banerjee took to the streets in sensitive areas in Kolkata appealing to people to stay indoors and observe the lockdown.

According to Sinha, out of the 23 districts in the state, four are in the red zone, 10 in orange and 9 in the green zone.

In the past 24 hours, 29 new cases were reported from the state taking the total number of active cases to 274 with 15 deaths.

Covid-19 related deaths are certified only by an audit committee set up by the state government in West Bengal and not by municipal authorities.

Sinha said that so far 28,000 people have been booked for lockdown violations with around 3,000 vehicles seized. Another 3,100 FIRs have been filed related to the lockdown.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel