Supreme Court says COVID situation ‘grim’ in Bengal; State sees spike in cases

Published : June 12, 2020 22:15 IST

In Kolkata on June 8 when lockdown restrictions were relaxed and hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and religious places were allowed to open. Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

In a major embarrassment for the Trinamool Congress government of West Bengal, the Supreme Court today came down heavily on the State, along with Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, for its handling of the COVID crisis. While Delhi bore the brunt of the court’s reprimand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh did not escape the apex court’s ire.

"Apart from Delhi, there is a grim situation in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal," said the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah. The States have been asked to submit their responses. The court was hearing the matter after it took suo motu cognisance of reports on the COVID crisis.

The criticism by the apex court is particularly stinging for Mamata Banerjee’s government which has maintained that its COVID management has been among the best in the country and that its enforcement of the lockdown and treatment of patients has been most humane.

The Supreme Court’s criticism gave the opposition parties a handle to attack the government with. Sayantan Basu, general secretary of the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told Frontline, "The Supreme Court is absolutely correct in its observation. For a long time we have been raising the alarm that the situation in our State is going out of control. Every time any evidence of mismanagement emerges, the State government and administration go into a denial mode… even the media people have been threatened and harassed. Everything is in a shambles as there is a government that does not know how to govern.... The Chief Minister wants to project that she is the only person to have been successful in stopping the spread of COVID in her State, but that seems to have backfired." Basu feels that the apex court’s admonishment may ultimately yield no result as "the State does not have the necessary infrastructure to set things right".

"This is something we have been saying right from the very start," said Surjya Kanta Mishra, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and secretary of the West Bengal unit of the party. He pointed out that the quarantine centres in the State were being "run by the people themselves". "The State government is saying that is spending Rs.3 crore a day in maintaining the quarantine centres, but the people inside have been complaining that they have to get their own food and water. There is no transparency about the death figures…. People should know what the situation is… patients are not allowed to keep mobile phones and they cannot keep in touch with their families even," Mishra told Frontline.

Congress heavyweight from West Bengal and leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, while agreeing with the observations of the Supreme Court, felt that it was not just four States where the situation was "grim". He said: "There is no denying that the Supreme Court observations are right, and we ourselves have been raising these issues with the State government, but the situation is not grim for West Bengal alone. Earlier, the Cabinet Secretary had a videoconference with all the State chief secretaries where he warned that a situation may come when there will be a shortage of medical inventories in 13 States, including Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana. I can emphatically say that the situation is grim across the country. Already India is ranked fourth in the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Moreover, the fatality rate in 69 districts in 13 States is 5 per cent, which is alarming. So, saying there is grim situation in four States is an underestimation."

Highest rise in cases in 24 hours

On June 12 the State recorded its highest rise in COVID cases in 24 hours, with 476 new cases. This has taken the number of active cases to 5,836 and the total number of confirmed cases in the State to 10,244. The total number of people who have died due to COVID-19, as per government figures, was 460, and, according to the government, 306 of those who had died (67.8 per cent), had comorbidities.

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