The Centre on Wednesday rebuked the West Bengal government over its low Covid-19 testing figures, high mortality rate and numerous instances of violation of lockdown guidelines, PTI reported. The state has reported 1,344 Covid-19 cases and 140 deaths, according to the Union health ministry.

“The response to COVID-19 in the state of West Bengal is characterised by a very low rate of testing in proportion to the population, and a very high rate of mortality of 13.2 per cent for the state, by far the highest for any state,” Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote in his letter to the state’s Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha.

“This is reflection of poor surveillance, detection and testing in the state. There is also need to increase random testing in crowded clusters,” he added.

The home ministry official’s stern letter came after two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams, sent to review the situation in Kolkata and Jalpaiguri, returned on Monday and submitted their reports. One of the teams flagged that the state had the highest mortality rate in the country, which was a “clear indication of low testing, weak surveillance and tracking”. The team also highlighted a discrepancy in the number of Covid-19 cases reported by the West Bengal Health Department in medical bulletins and in its communication with the Centre.

Bhalla added that instances of overcrowding in markets with poor sanitation, free movement of people in large numbers without masks, bathing of people in rivers, people playing cricket and football, serious laxity in enforcing lockdown measures in containment zones, plying of rickshaws were all grave violation of lockdown instructions. He also flagged attacks on frontline workers.

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Lockdown violations have been noted in Kolkata and Howrah by specific groups in specific localities with media reports of ‘Corona warriors’ including police being attacked,” Bhalla said in his letter, according to ANI. “This necessitates stricter enforcement of lockdown.”

The home ministry official also pointed to gaps in the surveillance and contact-tracing of patients. “The state has not furnished any data regarding the number of households and individuals contacted and surveyed for signs of COVID symptoms,” he said.

Bhalla also gave certain suggestions to the state government, including provision of adequate protective equipment to health workers, ensuring the well-being of migrant workers. He said that a strong surveillance and testing regime coupled with confidence-building measures and effective use of the ‘Aarogya Setu’ app could help curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Mamata Banerjee-led government has been accused of fudging Covid-19 numbers. On Monday, the government admitted that there was a problem in collating data on the coronavirus cases and deaths in the state.

Trinamool Congress’s response

Trinamool Congress leader Shantanu Sen accused the home ministry official of writing a letter full of lies, according to NDTV. “This is most unfortunate that the Union secretary has written a letter full of lies.” he said. “Why are you playing the communal card with reference to specific groups. Which group do you mean? Why don’t you specify?”

He also hit out at the government for not providing sufficient protective equipment to the state. “How many PPEs [Personal Protective Equipment] have you given to Bengal?” he asked. “All you have done is come and sprinkled flowers on the heads of doctors. The letter is an insult to all those fighting against COVID-19 in West Bengal.”