After the Centre directed the West Bengal government to cooperate with the Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) sent to assess COVID-19 lockdown compliance in state, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said there was “no non-cooperation”on part of the state.
A sharp escalation of standoff between the Centre and West Bengal government has come to a halt after the Chief Secretary in a letter to the Home Ministry said that the IMCT had arrived without any prior consultation with the state and, therefore, there was neither such opportunity to provide any logistic support as envisaged in the April 19 order nor the team asked for any help.
Sinha also assured that the state government will follow the order under the Disaster Management Act and the directions of the Supreme Court.
“It is not a fact that the (central inter-ministerial team) has not been provided with any cooperation by the state government. In fact the teams had arrived without any prior consultation with us and therefore there was neither such opportunity to provide any logistic support as envisaged in the order dated 19 April 2020. Nor did the teams ask for any help. They went to BSF guest house in Kolkata and the SSB guest house at Siliguri on their own,” Sinha wrote.
“In this connection this is to inform that the Kolkata team led by Apurva Chandra met me in my office on 20 April and had an interaction about the implementation of long-term measures and other steps of the state government to contain and combat COVID-19. I am also in touch with Vineet Joshi at Siliguri and have apprised him about the steps taken by the state government along with sharing of our reports on mail,” the Chief Secretary said.
The letter was in response to a note by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, who warned Sinha that Bengal needed to cooperate with the Centre and make all necessary arrangements for the IMCT to carry out responsibilities entrusted to them.
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The Home Ministry had on Tuesday received a feedback that the teams which have been deputed to Jalpaiguri and Kolkata in West Bengal, are not getting cooperation from the state government and the local administration. It was informed that the teams were being stopped from visiting the region and not given the scope to interact with health workers, or assess the ground level situation.
The IMCT deployed to Kolkata for assessing the situation related to COVID-19 management and the ongoing lockdown reportedly began their field visits only late in the afternoon on Tuesday after remaining put at a Border Security Force (BSF) facility since morning.
The team drove through various parts of the city, including Lake Gardens, Jadavpur, Bhowanipore, Ballygunge and Gariahat, after leaving their place of stay at about 5 p.m., around an hour after a strongly-worded letter from the Centre directing the state to provide all facilities to the IMCT.
The team leader, Apurva Chandra, earlier complained that despite giving assurances that they would be taken around, the state government informed them that “there are some issues, and we will not be going out.”
But some time after Chandra came up with his comment, the state government provided the team with Kolkata Police escort vehicles manned by anti-rowdy section officers of the detective department and a liaison officer early in the evening.
The Centre’s decision to send the team has triggered a big row, with the Trinamool Congress government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee questioning the need for such a delegation.
Banerjee shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, describing the Centre’s decision as “unilateral”, and alleging it was sent without prior intimation, causing “breach of established protocol”.
She also dubbed the Union government’s selection of districts with ‘serious’ Covid-19 situation as a ‘figment of imagination’.
The Centre had on Monday announced that Indore, Mumbai, Jaipur and Kolkata are among 11 cities in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal where COVID-19 “situation is specially serious”.
The Home Ministry made the announcement after analyzing the prevalence of lockdown violations in major hotspot districts in these cities of the four states. As per the ministry, the situation is specially serious in Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Mumbai and Pune (Maharashtra), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. To deal with the growing menace, the government had constituted six IMCTs to focus on the implementation of and compliance with the lockdown measures as per the guidelines, supply of essential goods and other related issues.
Regarding West Bengal, it said: “The situation is especially serious in Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts”.
The six IMCTs include two each for West Bengal and Maharashtra and one each for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to make on-spot assessment of situation and issue necessary directions to state authorities for its redressal and submit their report to central government in larger interest of general public. The committees have been constituted by the central government in exercise of the powers conferred under the Disaster Management Act 2005.
The IMCTs will focus their assessment on the compliance and implementation of lockdown measures as per guidelines and they will also focus on issues like the supply of essential commodities, social distancing in movement of people outside their homes, preparedness of the health infrastructure, hospital facility and sample statistics in the district, safety of health professionals, availability of test kits, PPEs, masks and other safety equipment, and conditions of the relief camps for labour and poor people.