Why Did Centre’s Inter-Ministerial Team Visit North Bengal?
Is the reason more political than factual?
The fight between the Centre and the state in West Bengal reached a political climax when two teams, known as the Inter Ministerial Central Teams, or the IMCTs, were sent to Kolkata by the Centre on 20 April. These teams, which were sent to other states as well, were to assess the lockdown and medical infrastructure in the state and report back to the Centre with their findings.
However, since the outset, the Mamata Banerjee government has been questioning the need to send these teams on two grounds –
Why were they sent without consultation with the state government?
Why are these teams visiting spots like Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri which haven’t reported a COVID positive case in the last many days – succinctly implying that the reason may be more political than factual.
What Were The Chosen “Hotspots” And Why Were They Chosen?
The two teams of the IMCT were scheduled to visit seven districts in West Bengal – Kolkata, Howrah, North 24-Parganas, East Midnapore, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong. These districts were declared as “hotspots” by the team without consulting the state government.
Out of these, four, namely, Kolkata, Howrah, North 24-Parganas, and East Midnapore, have been declared as “red zones” by the state government as well.
The other three – Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong, all in North Bengal – are currently in the “orange” zone, which is between the “red zone” (worst affected) and “green zone” (least affected).
One of the two IMCTs visited these areas.
Interestingly, all three districts are also somewhat governed by the BJP.
The Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat (which includes the Kalimpong Assembly segment) was won by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as was the Jalpaiguri Lok Sabha seat.
Sources in the state BJP say that it is on the recommendation of legislatures from the party that the IMCT decided to visit these North Bengal regions.
This was further confirmed by the BJP MP from Darjeeling, Raju Bista.
“COVID-19 response in North Bengal was horrendous to begin with. There was no proper isolation or quarantine facilities, hospitals severely lack equipment, there is acute shortage of doctors, nurses, and medical staff, and the government of West Bengal was conspicuous by their absence,” Bista told The Quint. “Even basic safety kits like PPE, N95 masks, sanitisers were not provided to our hospital staff. They sent raincoats instead of PPE. There was no protocol in place to deal with any COVID-19 cases.”
“I had raised these issues and requested a central team of experts to ascertain our COVID-19 response, to make us aware of the loopholes, and how to plug them,” he added.
According to the state government, the last COVID-19 case in Darjeeling was reported on 16 April, in Jalpaiguri on 4 April, and in Kalimpong on 2 April.
While the state government does not release district-wise figures of COVID-19 positive cases, The Quint spoke to the local administration in these districts to get a sense of how many cases they recorded.
According to sources, there were a total of 11 cases reported from Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri together. The district administration puts the number as seven in Kalimpong and four from Jalpaiguri. Till date, one death has also been reported from Kalimpong.
In Darjeeling, the district administration puts the number of total positive cases at four.
In terms of medical facilities, the burden of COVID-19 cases from all three of these districts falls on the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital located in Siliguri.
‘Don’t Trust The Data Presented By West Bengal Govt’
One of the reasons that sources in the BJP cited for one of the IMCT teams to be visiting these three districts is that they were apprehensive about the West Bengal government suppressing data from these areas.
“There are reports of police secretly taking dead bodies for burial in the middle of the night in Alipurduar district, without letting their families know. When villagers protested, shots were fired by the police,” said Bista.
This incident was reported by the local media, which has also reported mismatches between North Bengal data provided by the state government and those being reported by local bodies.
Alipurduar, also in North Bengal, has been declared a “green zone” by the state government.
“I do not trust the data presented by West Bengal government, because they have fabricated it. Even Mamata Banerjee has washed her hands off of that awful ‘death committee’ that was certifying who died of COVID-19 and who didn’t. Now who do we hold responsible for the fudged COVID-19 related death data?,” Bista asks.
Under the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Central government is allowed to oversee and, in some cases, override measures taken by the state government.
But with each state having its own rate of growth in terms of the disease and its own response mechanism suited their own logistics, is it prudent for the Centre to meddle into matters of the state?
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