BH CORRESPONDENT, Kolkata/New Delhi: A central team in Bengal to investigate coronavirus lockdown violations waited for hours before being allowed by the Mamata Banerjee government to tour Kolkata. It took a home ministry warning before the state government budged after keeping the teams in Kolkata and Jalpaiguri on hold.
Inter-Ministerial Central Teams have been sent to four states, three ruled by the opposition. The home ministry said except Bengal, every state had cooperated with its teams.
“We are not getting support from West Bengal, we are not being permitted to do our job. We have written to West Bengal again and have told them they have to assist otherwise action may be initiated. We are getting assistance from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Our decision to send teams was based on multiple inputs, not only from the health ministry,” said Home Ministry’s Punya Salila Srivastava in a media briefing.
The team in Kolkata said it had been forced to wait for permissions. “We were assured we could visit places. But on Tuesday, we were informed there were some issues and we will not be going out,” said Apurva Chandra, a senior Defence Ministry official heading the Kolkata team.
“Teams have gone to other states, there they are getting full support. They were given the same notice as West Bengal but they have faced no problems,” Chandra told news agency ANI.
On Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the team arriving in Kolkata much before she was formally told on the phone by Home Minister Amit Shah. “The selection of districts and observations made unilaterally are nothing but figments of imagination and unfortunate,” she raged, calling the team’s arrival a breach of protocol. She also said unless the PM and Amit Shah explained why her state had been singled out, it would not be possible for her government to cooperate.
Central teams have been sent to Pune in Maharashtra, Jaipur in Rajasthan, Kolkata, Howrah, Midnapre East, 24 Parganas North, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh’s Indore. Madhya Pradesh is the only BJP-ruled state where the Centre has sent a team.
Bengal has seven districts on the team’s watch-list. Three of the four districts have not reported a single virus case in 14 days, the state government claims.
But why no central teams in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi, which have a high number of COVID-19 cases, questioned the ruling Trinamool Congress. “States are fighting the virus, the Centre is fighting against some states,” said Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien, accusing the central teams of “adventure tourism” in Bengal.
The Trinamool pointed out that Gujarat, also ruled by the BJP, had seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks. The state has the third highest coronavirus cases in the country — 1939 — including 71 deaths.
The Centre claims it has sent the teams where the situation is serious and lockdown guidelines are being violated. The government also alleges that there are instances of the state administration underreporting COVID-19 cases, not referring specifically to Bengal, which has been accused of hiding the actual number of coronavirus patients.
An internal assessment of the home ministry pegs the number of coronavirus deaths in Bengal to be higher than being reported; it claims examples of cause of death being misreported.