Soon after the central government sent a team to monitor the Covid-19 situation in West Bengal, a war of words broke out between the West Bengal government and Centre.
The Centre’s decision to send Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (ICMTs) to visit and monitor some districts in West Bengal has not gone down well with the state government.
The ICMTs will visit East Midnapore, Howrah, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Kolkata districts to monitor the Covid-19 situation. All of these are the worst-hit districts in West Bengal.
However, questions have been raised by the state government on the process followed by the central government for sending a team to West Bengal without proper consultation or discussion.
State Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha was the first one to question the Centre in a press conference.
“How can a team of the central government land in Kolkata within 15 minutes of we being informed?” Sinha asked.
“The Centre has not given any prior information to the state at all. It is a big issue. We are here to facilitate them. We will not allow them to enter the state. If they think that with help of BSF or SSB, they can travel to any place of their choice, they are mistaken,” he added.
“There is no fight with the Centre but there is a definite structure and system which needs to be followed.”
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also wrote a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing her concerns.
She wrote, “Respected Prime Minister, I would like to bring to your kind notice that today the Union Home Minister spoke to me over the telephone at about 1:00 pm regarding the visit of Inter-Ministerial Central Teams to my state. Unfortunately, the teams had already landed at Kolkata Airport by AI Special Cargo Flight 1701 at 10:10 am, that is much before our telephonic conversation.”
“The order dated April 19, 2020, from home ministry addressed to Chief Secretary also reached 30 minutes before the teams arrived. While I appreciate the proactiveness shown by the central government in sending the teams to West Bengal, the same was done prior intimation and hence is a breach of established protocol,” Banerjee wrote.
“As an established procedure, it is expected that the central team should have first taken a briefing from the state government officials prior to going for the field visits.”
The Centre in its order said that there have been several violations of lockdown measures in some states and added that the situation in some state districts is serious, including some in West Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee, however, said the observations about West Bengal are “devoid of any facts” and are not credible.
“For example out of the districts identified, Kalimpong reported the last incident of infection on April 2. Similarly, last incidents of infection reported in Jalpaiguri was on April 2 and Darjeeling on April 2,” the chief minister added.
“It shows that selection of districts and observations made unilaterally are nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate. The state government is proactively enforcing the lockdown measures as notified by the Government of India and is maintaining a closed liaison with concerned Central Ministries,” Banerjee wrote.
She then added that West Bengal had proactively announced the extension of the lockdown from April 14 to April 30, even before the central government made its announcement.
“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 to contain the Covid-19 crisis,” she said.
Mamata Banerjee expressed her concern on Twitter as well.
We welcome all constructive support & suggestions, especially from the Central Govt in negating the #Covid19 crisis. However, the basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy IMCTs in select districts across India including few in WB under Disaster Mgmt Act 2005 is unclear.(1/2)
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) April 20, 2020
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh was quick to respond. He tweeted: “The central team is visiting the state in accordance with the Disaster Management Act. False information and theft of the state government might be caught red-handed: there is this fear.”
“The state government is creating a situation of crisis in conspiracy with the rice mills so that people are forced to buy rice from the market at higher rates,” he added.
“The chief secretary of the state has no other duty but to provide false information to the people through a press conference. The state government has not yet distributed 1.25 lakh tons of sent by the Centre”
“…The central team is visiting the state in accordance with the Disaster Management Act. False information and theft of the state government might be caught red-handed: there is this fear… pic.twitter.com/EBDrh6uOL7
— Dilip Ghosh (@DilipGhoshBJP) April 20, 2020
On Monday, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the Centre constituted six IMCTs for four states to make an on-spot assessment of the situation and issue necessary directions to states for redressal.
According to the spokesperson, each team will have 6 members including a senior public health specialist and a senior officer of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
These teams were tasked with monitoring hotspot areas, health infrastructure, disaster management and provide additional assistance to states.