‘Told no spot visit today’: Central team says Bengal govt not cooperating

The ruling TMC dubbed the visit of central teams as an attack on the federal structure of the country

Mamata Banerjee
Mamata Banerjee

The Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal is not cooperating with the central teams that were sent to assess the on-spot COVID-19 situation in the state, claimed the leader of one of the panels on Tuesday (April 21). The chief minister had a day earlier claimed she was kept in “dark” about the central teams’ visit, which the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has dubbed as “adventure tourism”.

The Union home ministry had on Monday said the COVID-19 situation was “especially serious” in Kolkata and a few other parts of West Bengal, besides cities in other states, and formed six Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) for an on-the-spot assessment in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal. While one central team arrived in Kolkata, another reached Jalpaiguri district on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Union home ministry has directed the state government not to obstruct the working of the two central teams in reviewing and making on the spot assessment of the implementation of lockdown measures. In a letter to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the teams have been restrained from assessing the ground level situation, and “this amounts to obstructing the implementation of the orders issued by the central government under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”

Apurva Chandra, the leader of one of the two teams sent to the state, claimed its members were told they “will not be going out” on Tuesday. “We’ve been deployed by the central government and our order of deployment says the state government is to provide logistic(al) support to us… I have been in touch with the chief secretary and seeking his support since I landed here,” said Chandra, an additional secretary in the defence ministry.


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“I had also met him yesterday. But today we have been informed that there are some issues so we are not going out today. The chief secretary is likely to visit us and we will again hold a meeting with him,” he told a television news channel. Chandra said the team had made it clear that it would be moving out with state government officers in order to make the visit more productive. “But now it is more than one day and we have only visited NICED (an ICMR facility) and the state secretariat only,” he said.

Chief Minister Banerjee had on Monday sought to know the rationale behind the formation of central teams to visit the states. She urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to share with her the criteria to be followed by the teams for the assessment of the situation, without which her government “would not be able to move ahead.”

Meanwhile, the political storm over the central teams’ visit escalated on Tuesday, with the TMC terming their arrival as “adventure tourism.” TMC MPs Derek O’Brien and Sudip Bandopadhyay claimed the chief minister was informed about the visit three hours after their arrival in the state, which they said was unacceptable.

“The IMCT is on an adventure tourism. The CM was told about the team’s visit three hours after the team landed,” said O’Brien. He also questioned why the central teams did not visit states such as Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh that have higher numbers of coronavirus cases and many more hotspots.

Why central teams are being sent to West Bengal which does not appear in the list of the top 10 states in terms of infection, he asked. “Why the chief minister was informed after the team had arrived? In a federal structure, you have to first inform the state government. The motive behind sending such teams is not yet clear. It needs to be clarified first,” said the Rajya Sabha MP.

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“We have kept politics behind and want a joint fight against the pandemic. Do not take our graciousness for granted, we too can talk in the political language. What the central government has done by sending central teams is nothing but an insult to the people of the state,” he added.

Asked about the “low rate of testing” in the state, Bandyopadhyay said 425 tests are conducted every day in West Bengal and from Tuesday the number would be increased to 600. The Lok Sabha MP claimed West Bengal initially had a dearth of testing kits sent by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Despite the state abiding by the norms set by ICMR and the central government and doing its best in curbing the disease, it has been targeted by the Centre and the BJP, the North Kolkata lawmaker said, and urged the Centre not to dilute the joint fight against COVID-19.

“The Union government without informing the state government had sent teams to the state government. It is not acceptable. Such steps are not only against the basic tenants of federalism but also tantamount to diluting the joint fight against the COVID crisis,” said Bandyopadhyay.

Meanwhile, a senior official at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) said the medical body has withdrawn the consignment of defective testing kits from some of the state-run laboratories in the state. The faulty kits were replaced by those provided by the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV), she said.

The West Bengal government had alleged the COVID-19 testing kits supplied by the NICED, the ICMR’s nodal agency in the state, a fortnight ago were “apparently defective” as they showed inconclusive results leading to repeated confirmatory tests and delay in diagnosis.

(With inputs from agencies)