Centre flags ICMT’s concerns over West Bengal’s handling of COVID crisis

Published : May 07, 2020 21:54 IST

Migrant workers and their families resume their trek to their hometowns after the government eased the lockdown restrictions, in Siliguri on May 7. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

The Union Home Ministry has written to the West Bengal government highlighting the concerns raised by the two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCT) that were deployed to look into allegations of violation of the nationwide lockdown in the State. In a letter to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha dated May 6, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote: “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… by far the highest for any State.” Bhalla emphasised the need to increase random testing in crowded clusters.

The letter also spoke of violations of the lockdown, particularly in Kolkata and Howrah “by specific groups in specific localities”; instances of overcrowding in bazaars, with poor sanitation; free movement of people in large numbers without masks; people bathing in rivers and playing cricket and football; and “serious” laxity in enforcing lockdown measures in containment zones. “These are all examples of poor supervision and implementation of crowd control measures by the district authorities. Ensuring strict adherence to social distancing norms and requisite hygiene and sanitation measures are required to be taken by the State. Poor community awareness, especially among labourers is also a cause of concern,” the letter stated.

According to the feedback received by the Home Ministry from the IMCTs, there remain “gaps” in the surveillance and contact tracing of positive cases. “The State has not furnished any data regarding the number of households and individuals contacted and surveyed for signs of COVID symptoms. Further, testing facilities need to be set up in hill districts of North Bengal, as transporting the test samples to Siliguri is challenging and causes delays,” the letter stated. It also pointed out that indefinite delays in testing results have further affected the contact tracing process and put patients under high risk.

The Centre suggested that a public grievance redress mechanism for COVID-related queries and grievances should be established in the State to “equip public with right kind of information regarding the testing protocols and actions to be taken thereafter”. The letter also drew attention to the need to “pay attention to the well being of poor and migrant labourers in accordance with the Government of India guidelines and share information on the steps taken to mitigate their hardship…”. The letter mentioned in particular the plight of the workers of the tea gardens of Darjeeling and Siliguri and suggested that steps should be taken to adequately compensate them as “reportedly lesser wages were paid to them during the first phase of the lockdown”.

The Union Home Secretary also said a “strong surveillance and testing regime coupled with confidence building measures and effective use of Aarogya Setu App could help in curtailing the spread of the virus”.

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