Post-visit, central team suggests stricter implementation of COVID-19 lockdown in north Bengal
The central team in north Bengal, led by senior bureaucrat Vineet Joshi, said that more field officers are required to monitor and provide feedback about the effectiveness of various measures.
KOLKATA: The central teams on COVID-19 assessment on Saturday alleged non-cooperation by the West Bengal government and wondered whether the ruling dispensation would take responsibility for its members' safety, drawing sharp riposte from the TMC which mocked the IMCTs as "India's Most Callous Team".
In a fresh set of letters to Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, the two teams, which are in Bengal to assess the ground-level situation, one in Kolkata and the other in Siliguri in North Bengal, flagged several instances of non-cooperation in providing logistical support and other relevant information and suggested stricter implementation of the lockdown to prevent the contagion.
The ruling Trinamool Congress hit back, alleging the central teams were working with a malafide intention of maligning Bengal, in order to please their BJP bosses.
The inter-ministerial central team (IMCT), led by senior bureaucrat Apurba Chandra, said it is yet to receive a response from the state government to the letters it has written to Sinha since its arrival in the city on Monday.
The central teams' visit has been far from smooth from the day it arrived.
The Bengal government alleged they were kept in dark about the visit and also attached political motives behind the move.
Chandra also sought details about testing, quarantine and contact tracing of the Tablighi Jamaat returnees from Delhi's Nizamuddin, based on the data provided by the Union government.
"Four letters have been written to the state government till today. No response has been received till date. The chief secretary of West Bengal has been widely reported in the media to have stated that IMCT is free to visit anywhere, and the state government cannot waste its time by accompanying them.
"The above stand is a violation of the order by the Union Home Ministry and the state government is expected to provide logistics support and facilitate all field visits," Chandra said in one of the two letters to the chief secretary.
"The stand of the state government on facilitating the visits of the IMCTs and ensuring the safety and security of the team members as also providing information and records may be made clear through written communication, rather than through media," he added.
Wondering whether in absence of police escorts, the state government will take responsibility for the safety of the IMCT if it ventures out on its own, the central team enquired whether there is an order to limit their movement.
Among the questions raised by the panel to the state government was a query on alleged orders to limit their movement across the state.
"Whether it is a fact that a DCP of West Bengal police informed BSF officers at BSF guest house on 21. 04.2020 that the IMCT cannot leave the campus without the permission of the state government as lockdown is in force and the IMCT, if it leaves the BSF guest house, is only permitted to go to the airport, Chandra said.
He also sought to know whether PPEs would be provided by the state government during the teams visit to the hospitals.
The central team has made queries on 10 aspects of the health department, including quarantine and lockdown measures.
Although a presentation was made, a hard copy of that has not been furnished yet, he said.
"The IMCT may be provided with full records of the surveillance carried out in the containment zones. The IMCT would also like to interact with food and civil supplies officials about the supply of essential commodities in containment zones," he said.
In another letter, the team in North Bengal, led by senior bureaucrat Vineet Joshi, said a larger number of field officers are required to monitor and provide feedback about the effectiveness of measures undertaken by the state government.
"As an immediate measure, it is suggested that stricter implementation of lockdown is absolutely necessary to avoid any further outbreak," Joshi said.
He said additional details were sought during discussions with the divisional commissioner, district magistrate and CMO Darjeeling on April 22 and April 23, but are yet to be provided.
"A meeting sought with the police commissioner could not materialise as requested. The IMCT would still request you to facilitate the meeting. Lot of details are required from his side regarding the implementation of the lockdown," Joshi said.
The letters by the central team fanned the ongoing political storm over COVID-19 in Bengal, with the TMC described the two inter-ministerial central teams (IMCT) visiting Bengal as "India's Most Callous Team".
But, opposition BJP and Congress stood firmly behind the teams and said the TMC's lies on COVID stands exposed.
"As expected, IMCT's visit to #Bengal has served no purpose. Visiting districts with no hotspots, asking #Bengal for audit committee, already been in place since early April," TMCs leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O'Brien said in a tweet.
"Their real aim is to spread the political virus. They are doing it shamelessly, Blatantly. Take your pick, IMCT = India's Most Callous Team IMCT = I Must Cause Trouble (in Bengal)," he tweeted.
Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, thanked the central team for its visit.
"Stop being puerile! Lives of people in Bengal deserves a more serious response. Bengal's Covid-19 toll went up nearly 4 times, from 18 to 57, in 24 hours after IMCT probe. Stop fudging numbers! Now disclose the number of clandestine cremations, which followed COVID protocol, too," the West Bengal BJP tweeted.