KOLKATA: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday urged the journalists to take a pro-people stand amid the pandemic and threatened to prosecute those who highlight negative news as she said it may trigger panic.
Mamata said that there are legal provisions to prosecute those who spread panic during a pandemic which, if necessary, the state government may use.
"I would like to request you to take pro-people stand. We are facing unprecedented crisis period. No one should indulge in any activity that can trigger panic and scare common people unnecessarily. For the time being, stop highlighting negative news or information," she said.
Requesting the scribes to assist the government, she further said, “Highlight what the government is doing. It will give common people confidence. If there is any issue to be addressed, let the government know.’’
Mamata asserted that strict measures have been taken to control the spread of Covid-19 in the state. She ruled out a total lockdown in the state.
Urging the Centre to facilitate free-of-cost vaccines for all in the country, she said that her government won't be charging anything for innoculating its people.
"We have taken strict measures. The number of hospital beds in the state (for COVID-19 patients) have been increased to 30,000. Also, all medical college hospitals in the state have been asked to set up oxygen plants and given liberty to decide on further increase in the number of beds."
"A total lockdown will hamper the livelihood of people, especially those of daily wage earners," the chief minister told reporters at the state secretariat after the first cabinet meeting of her newly formed government.
She requested faithfuls to hold small prayer meetings with less than 50 people in attendance on Eid ul-Fitr.
The CM said that her government has sought three crore vaccines from the Centre for Bengal, of which one crore will be distributed among private hospitals.
"Several steps, such as suspension of local train services, are being taken to break the chain of virus transmission. Every person should strictly abide by the COVID-19 protocols, and behave like a lockdown was in force across the state," she insisted.
Banerjee thanked common people and corporate houses for providing valuable aid to the state government for boosting its healthcare infrastructure.
She requested them to continue backing the administration financially for purchase of requisite vaccines, assuring that there will be an audit of all expenditure made with the money.
The CM iterated that the Centre should do away with GST on any initiative to build health infrastructure amid the pandemic so that more number of corporate entities can come forward to provide assistance.
"As the central government is not providing any financial aid, we can strengthen healthcare infrastructure and buy vaccines with the support rendered by corporate entities and other residents."
"Bengal needs 550 metric tonne oxygen, but the Centre has allotted it a little over 300 metric tonne," she claimed.
Claiming that the Centre has reportedly exported 65 per cent of vaccines produced in the country, she said, "I ask the Union government to mull over its options and source more vaccines, if necessary from foreign countries."
The CM stated that the cabinet has formed a committee comprising chief secretary and other top officials of home, finance and health departments to address gaps in critical infrastructure.
"This committee will look into implementation of promises made to the people after the COVID-19 situation is brought under control," she said.
Talking about the allegations made in reference to post-poll violence in Bengal, the chief minister claimed that the BJP's IT cell was spreading rumours with fake videos.
"People have given their verdict (in the recently concluded election) for peace and unity. We will not tolerate any violence," she underlined.
"Barring one incident in Sitalkuchi (CISF firing), there has been no genocide in West Bengal. A government has taken charge in Bengal following a landslide victory, why should a central team be sent within 24 hours after the new dispensation took over?" she stated, lashing out at the Ministry of Home Affairs that sent a four-member group to find out reasons for post-poll violence in the state.
Accusing the central team of adopting a "partisan attitude", the chief minister said that the team was only visiting the houses of BJP workers.
"Half of those killed are from our party, we have declared relief (of Rs 2 lakh) for all, no matter which party they belong to, including the BJP," she added.
Meanwhile, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Monday expressed concerns over post-poll violence and said he would be visiting the affected areas shortly.
Dhankhar’s statement is expected to intensify the ongoing face-off between him and the Mamata government.
He said the state government was yet to respond to his request for necessary arrangements to be made prior to his visit to affected areas.
“If your vote becomes a cause of your death or property destruction, if it leads to arson, loot, then that signals end of democracy,” said Dhankhar. “I will visit areas,” he added.
The state on Monday registered its highest single day COVID-19 death of 134 people taking the toll due to the pandemic in the state to 12,461, the health department said.
The state also reported highest single day spike of 19,445 fresh cases pushing the tally to 10,12,604, it added.
North 24 Parganas district accounted for 42 deaths, while there were 34 COVID-19 deaths in the city, the bulletin said.
In neighbouring South 24 Parganas there were 14 deaths, eight in Hooghly, six in Howrah while the rest are from other districts of the state, it added.
Out of the 134 deaths, 55 were due to the comorbidities where COVID-19 was incidental, the health department said.
Among the fresh cases, North 24 Parganas registered 3,971 of them, while in the city 3,948 cases pushing the number of active cases to 1,26,663, it said.
There were 18,675 recoveries reported in the state in the last 24 hours improving the discharge rate to 86.26 per cent.
So far, 8,73,480 people have recovered from the disease in West Bengal.
Since Sunday, 62,186 samples have been tested in the state taking the total number of such tests to 1,10,30,927, the bulletin mentioned, the health department said.
On Monday, at least 1,31,975 people were vaccinated in West Bengal and there were no cases of adverse effect following immunisation reported from anywhere in the state, an official of the department said.
Meanwhile, the state government has decided to start the inoculation process of transport workers involved in the private sector from Tuesday, its new Transport Minister Firhad Hakim said.
The minister said that hawkers will also be vaccinated soon.
The Calcutta High Court on Monday directed West Bengal government to file an affidavit by next week disclosing the exact state of affairs with regard to COVID-19 management, facilities, medicines, infrastructure and the vaccination drive.
Hearing a PIL with regard to COVID care in the state and vaccination of people, a division bench of the high court also directed the additional solicitor general to file an affidavit on the steps taken by the central government in the perspective of West Bengal and the proposed plan of action for the affected persons on the next date of hearing.
The bench said that due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, the state will have to ensure all facilities, treatments and the infrastructure required to combat the situation.
It directed the state to file an affidavit disclosing the exact state of affairs as well as the facilities, medicines, infrastructure and the vaccination drive already started in West Bengal on the next date of listing.
The division bench, comprising Justices Harish Tandon and Shampa Sarkar directed that the matter be listed for hearing again after a week.
The bench directed that in the meantime, the state shall ensure extension of adequate medical facilities to the affected persons and speed up the vaccination drive in terms of the various circulars and government orders issued in this regard.
(With PTI Inputs)