Mamata opposes Central teams’ visit to COVID hotspots, refuses cooperation

Published : April 20, 2020 20:22 IST

In an area designated as a "red zone" in north Kolkata. Photo: Debasish Bhaduri

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that she is peeved with the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams’ (IMCT) visit to inspect COVID-19 hotspots in the State following reports of rampant violation of the lockdown. In a strongly-worded letter dated April 20 to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mamata stated that “such unilateral action on the part of the Central Government is not desirable at all, especially in the backdrop when both Central and State governments are working together relentlessly round the clock to contain the COVID-19 crisis.”

In an order from the Ministry of Home Affairs, dated April 19, addressed to the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, the Centre wrote that incidents of violation of the lockdown, if allowed to occur without any restraining measures in hotspot districts or emerging hotspots, will pose a serious health hazard both for the population of the districts and for people living in other areas of the country.

“After analysing the prevalence of such violations in major hotspot districts, it is clear to the Central government that the situation is especially serious in Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts….

“Whereas, the Central Government, in exercise of the powers, conferred inter alia, under Section 35(1), 35(2) (a), 35 (2)(e), and 35 (2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, hereby constitutes two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCT), as per Annexure, which will visit Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts…, make an on the spot assessment of the situation, issue necessary directions to the State Authorities for redressal of the situation, and submit their report to the Central Government in larger interest of general public,” the order stated

According to the order, the West Bengal government will provide logistic support to the teams “for their accommodation (lodging and boarding), transportation, PPEs, and extend cooperation for their visits to local areas….”

Expressing her displeasure at the order, Mamata let it be known that she will not be cooperating with the Central teams unless the Centre provides “valid reasons” for the proposed visit. In a social media post, she wrote:

“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.

I urge both Honb’le Prime Minister @NarendraModi Ji & Home Minister @AmitShah Ji to share the criterion used for this. Until then I am afraid, we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism.”

The Central team’s arrival in Kolkata on the morning of April 20 also seems to have taken the State government by surprise, as Mamata’s letter to Modi indicated. “I would like to bring to your kind notice that today the Union Home Minister spoke to me over telephone at about 1 p.m. regarding 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 a.m., i.e., much before our telephonic conversation,” the letter stated. Mamata also pointed out that the Central government by sending teams to the State without prior intimation was committing a “breach of established protocol”.

In her letter, Mamata refuted the claims made by in the Central order, saying that they were nothing but a figment of imagination. “These observations are devoid of any facts and do not lend any credibility to the claim. For example, out of the districts identified, Kalimpong reported the last incident of infection on 2nd April. Similarly, last incidents of infection reported in Jalpaiguri was on 4th April and Darjeeling on 16th April. It shows that selection of districts and observations made unilaterally are nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate,” said Mamata in her letter.

This is not the first time that the Centre has intervened in State government actions to contain the spread of COVID-19. On April 10 and 12, the Ministry of Home Affairs had written to the State government alleging reports of rampant violations of lockdown. “Gradual dilution of lockdown has been reported from West Bengal, with an increase in the number of exceptions being provided by the State government,” said the letter dated April 10. The letter also stated, “There is no regulation in vegetable, fish and mutton markets where people have been thronging in complete violation of social distancing norms….”

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