The nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus has pitted the governments of the union and the state of West Bengal against each other. The Ministry of Home Affairs has alleged that the administration in West Bengal is not cooperating with the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (ICMT) who are unable to meet the state health officials.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote a letter to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha saying that it has been brought to the notice of his ministry that there was no necessary support from the state and local administration for the ICMTs in Kolkata and Jalpaiguri. These teams were prevented from visiting the areas, meeting health workers and knowing the ground level.
Bengal violating DMA, says home ministry
The letter said that it was a violation of the Disaster Management Act 2005 of the union government and is also in violation of the directions of the Supreme Court.
The Ministry of Home Affairs definitely said the ICMTs were facing no problem in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Incidentally, two of these states do not have BJP governments.
Amid the growing crisis of the coronavirus outbreak in India, the union government’s process to send central teams to states has hit an obstacle in West Bengal that initiated an attack on the Centre on Twitter today. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also expressed reservations about the ICMTs in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in her letter, “I would like to bring to your kind notice that today the Union Home Minister spoke to me over the telephone at about 1 pm regarding the visit of the inter-ministerial central teams to my state. Unfortunately, the teams had already landed in Kolkata airport by AI special cargo flight 1701 at 10:10 AM, i.e. much before our telephonic conversation. The order dated 19 April 2020, from the home ministry addressed to the chief secretary also reached just 30 minutes before the teams arrived. While I appreciate the pro-activeness shown by the central government in sending their teams to West Bengal, the same was done without prior intimation and hence is a breach of established protocol.”
Banerjee alleged while as per the home ministry’s order the state government was supposed to provide the logistical arrangements, the central teams kept the state in the dark and approached central forces such as the Border Security Force (BSF) and Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) and had started making their movements without consulting the state. “As an established procedure, it is expected that the central team should have first taken a briefing from the state government officials prior to going for the field visits,” the letter read.
Banerjee alleged that the order from the home ministry mentioned “number of violations of lockdown measures” and said that “these observations are devoid of any facts and do not lend any credibility to the claim.” According to her, “selection of districts (for the central team’s visit) and observations made unilaterally are nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate.”
The chief minister reminded the prime minister that West Bengal had “pro-actively announced the lockdown before it was announced by the central government”, and that the state extended the lockdown up to April 30 even before the Centre announced an extension of the lockdown on 14 April. “I am sure you will kindly agree that such unilateral action on the part of the central government is not desirable at all,” she wrote in her letter.
Banerjee took to Twitter to express her displeasure too.
Questioning the decision of the Centre, West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha asked how the union government’s team could land in Kolkata when the state had been informed in this regard only 15 minutes before their arrival.
Sinha said that the union government did not give the state any advance information. Seizing the opportunity to score some brownie points, he said the Centre was mistaken if it thought it could barge anywhere in the country with the help of BSF or SSB. He said the state machinery was meant to serve the people and not offer central teams hospitality.
Sinha said while the state had no fight with the Centre, there is a fixed structure and system in place for cooperation that must be followed.
Not to be left behind, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) ruling West Bengal responded to the letter from the MHA, saying while states were busy fighting coronavirus, the Centre was fighting the states.
He further wrote, ‘The letter of the Union Home Ministry written to the Chief Secretary on 19 April 2020 was also received 30 minutes before the teams landed. Although I appreciate the pro-activeness of sending the West Bengal team on behalf of the Central Government, but this was done without any prior notice, so it is a violation of established protocol.
The team will go to 4 states
Earlier, the spokesperson of the Union Home Ministry had informed about the formation of 6 Inter-Ministerial Central Teams to be sent to the four states. Each team has 6 members including a senior public health specialist. Their aim is to take stock of the situation on the spot and give directions to the concerned states for redress.
The scope of these teams was to look into issues such as hotspots, health infrastructure, disaster management, state support, ensuring compliance with lockdown regulations, supply of essential commodities, adherence to social distancing, safety of healthworkers and the condition of shelters.
The Central Government had announced that Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (ICMTs) would go to West Bengal and visit East Midnapore, Howrah, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Kolkata districts. These are the most affected districts of Corona in Bengal.