West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday criticised the Centre’s decision to send inter-ministerial teams to some parts of the country, where it described the coronavirus situation as being “especially serious”. The regions earmarked by the Centre are Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata and some other places in West Bengal.

Banerjee said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that while she appreciated the Centre’s proactive stand in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, sending teams without intimating the state in advance was a “breach of protocol”.

The chief minister said she spoke to Union Home Minister Amit Shah around 1 pm regarding the visit of the IMCTs (Inter-ministerial central teams). However, the teams had already landed at Kolkata airport around 10.10 am, she added. “The order dated April 19, 2020 from the home minister addressed to the [West Bengal] chief secretary also reached just 30 minutes before the teams arrived,” Banerjee wrote.

The chief minister added that the IMCTs directly approached special forces in West Bengal like the Sashastra Seema Bal and the Border Security Force for logistical support without informing the state authorities. She said the teams should have taken a briefing from state government officials before beginning their field visits.

Banerjee also claimed that the Centre’s observations on lockdown violations in the state were “devoid of any facts”. “I am sure that you will kindly agree that such unilateral action on the part of Central Government is not desirable at all, especially in the backdrop when both central and state governments are working together relentlessly round the clock to contain the Covid-19 crisis,” Banerjee said.

Earlier in the day, the chief minister had in a series of tweets said that the basis for sending special teams across India, including to West Bengal, was unclear. She warned that the state would be unable to “move ahead on this”, that is, cooperation with the IMCTs as it would be inconsistent with the “spirit of federalism”.

Banerjee asked Modi and Amit Shah to share the criteria used for selecting these districts to deploy ICMTs.

“The situation is ‘especially serious’ in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, Jaipur in Rajasthan, and Kolkata, Howrah, East Medinipur, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal,” the home ministry had said in a letter to the states and Union Territories. “Violation of lockdown measures reported, posing a serious health hazard to public and risk for spread of Covid-19.” The Centre will send two teams to West Bengal to assess the situation.

The total number of cases in India according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is 17,265, but the Indian Council of Medical Research said at least 17,615 people have tested positive so far. The ministry said it is “reconciling” its figures with those from ICMR.

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