Amid allegations of the state government’s effort to hide actual numbers regarding COVID-19 positive cases and deaths, involvement in alleged PDS scam, and keeping BJP MPs under ‘house arrest’, Governor JAGDEEP DHANKHAR tells RAVIK BHATTACHARYA that the state government should synergistically work with the Centre.
What do you think of the Centre sending two teams to Bengal to evaluate lockdown enforcement in seven districts (COVID-19 hotspots)?
COVID-19 is to be faced unitedly, fully supporting our health warriors. Coronavirus is secular, non-discriminatory and adversely impacts all, irrespective of ideology or status. In the country, the fight against this menace to civilisation is being spearheaded by the prime minister with vision and imagination. It is required of all to be in cooperation mode.
I have appealed to all in the state to extend full support to the state government. I have requested the state government to synergistically work with the central government.
Central teams have come after due thought process and under a legal regime that binds us all. The Supreme Court order, dated March 31, is required to be followed by all, and that mandates — “…we trust and expect that all concerned viz., State Governments, Public Authorities and Citizens of this country will faithfully comply with the directives and orders issued by the Union of India in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety.”
This is no time to dictate actions by political or otherwise considerations.
CM Mamata Banerjee has said sending central team ‘without valid reason might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism’. What is your opinion on this?
I am sure the CM will revisit her stand in the light of the legal provisions of the SC order and offer full cooperation to the central teams, so that the miseries of people can be mitigated and the sharpness of the fight against COVID-19 be enhanced.
All are bound by constitutional provisions and must respect the same. While I have not appreciated the stand of the CM in not performing her constitutional duties, even qua my office, looking into the seriousness and sensitive situation, I continue to be in request mode. There has to be realisation by her. Bureaucracy must not be emasculated or in supine mode.
On social media, you have criticised the alleged house arrest of BJP MPs during COVID-19 outbreak. What should have been done?
MPs have critically significant role to play, more so during crisis period. Curtailment of their activities, inspired by political motivations, is unwholesome reflection on governance. I invited attention of the government to this aspect and the response of the state leaves everything to be desired. The cryptic response calls for stern action and that is engaging my attention. What an ironic situation that while one MP can feed thousands in a day and for days together, the others can’t step out to discharge public service. This dichotomy is alarming and cannot be overlooked.
What is your take on opposition parties, including BJP and CPM, challenging the number of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths?
There are no takers for the COVID-19 death figures in the state on account of the series of discrepancies by the state government. The concern of the political parties, medical fraternity and citizens is well-premised. The trust deficit on this count between the government and medical fraternity as also between the government and people has attracted national and global focus. The concept of Audit Committee, unheard of so far, has worsened the situation… people need to know the ground reality and such information is bound to generate seriousness in people towards observance of lockdown protocol and social distancing.
I have urged the government that a credible sharing of information will go a long way in sharpening our fight against COVID-19.
You have talked about ‘PDS scam’ in Bengal during the lockdown and stated that it is getting bigger. What should be done? Did you speak to any Union minister over this issue?
From all over the state, I have got worrisome inputs about PDS being hijacked politically, ration dealers being subjected by ruling party workers to coercive mechanism and distribution taking place in a politicised manner under token issued by the workers of the ruling party. This hijacking is a very poor reflection on the public functionaries and they will have to be held accountable for their lapses, failures and inaction in official duties.
It is unfortunate that the benefits sought to be given to more than 6 crore people in the state under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) was stalled by the inaction on the part of the government. Under the PMGKAY, free ration is available for three months @ 5 kg rice per person per month and 1 kg dal per family per month. On one hand, people were facing huge shortage and problems of getting ration, and on the other, free ration, given by the Centre, was not being lifted. I took up the matter in earnestness and the process of taking free ration available under PMGKAY has at last started.
PDS has to be transparently operated with full sense of accountability. The present state of affairs is a cause of concern if we go by the inputs I have received and what is being circulated in the social medial. All loopholes must be plugged, otherwise this PDS scam has the potential to take a shape beyond the earlier scams, which stigmatised the state.
I have tried through my office to seek relevant inputs from the Chief Secretary, Food Minister and Food Secretary and talked to the Food Secretary. The details are yet to come. Their response, to say the least, is not appreciated.
Are you satisfied with the state government’s efforts in combating COVID-19 spread?
As regards efforts of the state government in combating COVID-19, the intervention of the Home Ministry on April 10, indicates that more is required to be done. This is no time for anyone to engage in any criticism or confrontational posturing. The foremost need of the time is that all must act in unison and coordination. The sight of religious congregations under the very nose of the police indicates a worrisome spectacle.
The only soldier who can beat coronavirus is the common man. He has to observe 100 per cent social distancing. This has to be ensured by the administration in all seriousness, without an eye on political vote bank or otherwise.
Doctors and health workers have been reportedly infected in large number and hospitals are being partially sealed.
Health workers in the state need to be saluted. I was considerably disturbed that when the PM gave a call for ‘clapping for 5 minutes’ on March 22, the CM and her ministers and partymen were not seen in public domain as participating. The same was the situation with respect to ‘lighting of diyas’ on April 5. These are certainly not in consonance with the united fight against COVID-19.
The doctors, nurses and paramedical health workers have exposed themselves only to help us out. They are terribly stressed. A number of organisations have indicated to me that their professionalism has been undermined and the government on this count is not acting in a transparent manner. Even globally the issue has come to be focussed. High time that efforts are made to boost the morale of doctors and health workers and correctional steps are taken.
TMC MPs have criticised your stand and said they will lodge a complaint against you with Lok Sabha Speaker? What is your response?
During this crisis, and otherwise also, I have engaged in outreach to public representatives. I do not understand on what premise the representatives of the ruling party are maintaining a distance. All my actions are dictated in the interest of people of the state of West Bengal, and I would continue to work in that direction. The script that I follow emanates from the Indian Constitution. No TMC MP has ever got in touch with me or made a representation to me of any such grievance.
Surely it is not appropriate for the CM to have an iron curtain with Raj Bhavan. Disregard of constitutional norms and objections at her end are just not condonable. I have repeatedly urged her to reflect. CM is acting in an undemocratic fashion by ignoring the Constitution that indicates authoritarianism.