A central team sent to West Bengal to assess the Covid-19 situation told the Union home ministry on Saturday that the Mamata Banerjee-led government was not providing them basic logistics or information, Hindustan Times reported. They said there were major lapses on the part of the state government in implementing the lockdown and handling the disease outbreak.
Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs in the state also claimed that Banerjee was moving around in a huge carcade, violating lockdown norms, and also accused the Bengal government of fabricating the number of Covid-19 cases in the state, PTI reported.
Two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams are visiting the state – one in Kolkata and the other in Siliguri in North Bengal. West Bengal reported 571 Covid-19 cases, and 18 deaths till Saturday evening, according to the Ministry of Health.
In the five days that the teams have spent in Bengal, senior Indian Administrative Service officer Apurva Chandra told the Union home ministry that they had been able to make only two field visits, when they went to three hospitals and a quarantine centre. He said they also drove to a containment zone at Salkia. However, the state government had told the Border Security Force officers who accompanying the team not to let them venture out without the state police’s permission. “It seems they have been mostly stuck in the Border Security Force guest house and been able to spend barely six hours in the field,” a senior home ministry official was quoted as saying by Hindustan times.
Chandra told the home ministry the IMCT had not been given a firm number of containment zones in the state and that there were huge gaps in the one they visited.
In a letter to the state government, Chandra said the main task of the local administration in a containment zone is to conduct surveys and surveillance activity. “Unless this is carried out simultaneously during the period of containment, no effective purpose would be served.”
This is Chandra’s fourth letter to the Bengal government, the only mode of communication with the state.
‘More field officers needed to monitor lockdown impact’
In a letter to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, the central team in north Bengal, led by senior bureaucrat Vineet Joshi, said more field officers were required to monitor and provide feedback about the impact of the various measures undertaken by the state, PTI reported. He said stricter implementation of the lockdown was “absolutely necessary” to avoid any further outbreak. “A larger number of field officers are required to monitor and provide feedback about the effectiveness of various measures undertaken by the government.”
In his previous letters, the team had pointed out that patients in isolation wards had to wait for at least five days for the Covid-19 test results, the lack of social distancing at hospitals, and the possibility of corpses lying on beds in wards for four hours, according to Hindustan Times.
BJP turns up heat on TMC
Mamata Banerjee and the central government have been involved in a tussle over the IMCT’s visit to Bengal. With the Assembly elections in the state due in 2021, the BJP has turned up the heat on the Trinamool Congress government over its alleged poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis. The state’s ruling party has, in turn, accused BJP of trying to defame it, PTI reported.
BJP MPs from West Bengal, including Union minister Debasree Chaudhuri, said they were confined to their homes, while TMC leaders and workers were allowed to move around.
Chaudhari claimed the state government revised its coronavirus case figures on Friday owing to pressure from the central team to come clean. BJP MLA Sabyasachi Dutta alleged that bodies are being cremated secretly in the state and added that Banerjee has been moving around in a huge carcade in violation of the lockdown norms.
‘Government spreading political virus’
Meanwhile, TMC MP Derek O’Brien on Saturday said the IMCT’s visit to West Bengal served no purpose. “Visiting districts with no hotspots. Asking for committee already in place. Real aim is to spread the political virus. Doing it shamelessly. Blatantly. Take ur pick. IMCT= India’s Most Callous Team. IMCT= I Must Cause Trouble (in Bengal),” Derek O’Brien tweeted on Saturday. Soon after, he also tweeted a video message with the statement.