The chief secretary briefed the teams about the measures the state had taken but chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the Centre had not followed federal protocol. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Banerjee said that the state was informed of the central teams’ arrival much after they landed.
“The Union home minister spoke to me over telephone at about 1 pm” on the IMCT visit but “unfortunately the teams had already landed at Kolkata airport by a special cargo flight at 10 am, much before our telephonic conversation. The order dated April 19, 2020, from home ministry addressed to chief secretary also reached just 30 minutes before the teams arrived. While I appreciate the proactiveness shown by the central government in sending teams to West Bengal, the same was done without prior intimation and hence is a breach of established protocol.”
Banerjee said the teams flouted norms by using BSF and SSB forces. Though the state was supposed to provide the logistics, “the central teams kept the state government in complete dark and had approached central forces like BSF, SSB for the logistics support and moved in the field without any consultation with the state government. As an established procedure, it is expected that the central teams should have taken briefing from the state government officials prior to going for field visits.”
Banerjee alleged home ministry observations on lockdown violation were “devoid of any facts” and “do not lend any credibility to the claim. It shows that selection of districts and observations made unilaterally are nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate. The state government is proactively enforcing lockdown measures as notified by GoI and maintaining a close liaison with concerned central ministries,” she said.
MHA has set up six inter-ministerial teams, two each for West Bengal and Maharashtra and one each for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The teams have a MHA mandate to make on-spot assessment, issue directions for redress to the states and submit a report to the Centre “in larger interest of general public,” said an MHA spokesperson. MHA officials said the teams have been set up as per section 35 of Disaster Management Act, 2005, and aim to provide support and assistance to states in their endeavour to combat Covid-19. West Bengal reported 339 positive cases and 12 deaths while there are 4,203 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra and 223 deaths, according to the health ministry data.
Political observers see the row as part of the fight between BJP and the Trinamool Congress as both parties try to woo the electorate of the assembly elections a year away. Banerjee had earlier alleged that the Centre was meting out a step-brotherly treatment against Bengal, even as BJP has kept its ‘Save Bengal’ campaign alive during the pandemic and alleged that the state government was engaging in ‘minority appeasement’ and not taking adequate measures.
MHA claims that the situation is serious in Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri. BJP’s Hooghly MP Locket Chatterjee told ET that the government has not revealed the number of Tablighi Jamaat members who attended the conclave at Delhi’s Nizamuddin in March and who are currently in West Bengal. “Initially they said there are 200 such people but then refused to share details. There should be transparency in such matters so that people know which areas are affected and the number of people carrying the disease.”
She alleged BJP MPs were under house arrest and party workers detained or given quarantine ticket to prevent them from serving the people. “The government is hiding the figures of those affected by Covid-19 to show in the 2021 assembly elections that it did a good job of combating the pandemic,” she alleged.
The lockdown is not being followed in areas having a sizeable Muslim population, a BJP leader alleged. The disease is spreading while doctors have been directed not to declare such deaths as caused by Covid-19. “The lockdown is not followed, there is no strictness and tests are not being done in such hotspots. The state government refused to use the testing kits as these were of saffron colour. Now they are raising questions about the quality of the kits.”
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