West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday accused the Centre of dispatching faulty COVID-19 testing kits to the state, and strongly criticised it for sending teams to assess the situation on the ground.
“They are showing an attitude that they would have been happy if there were more COVID-19 cases in Bengal,” Banerjee told a press conference. “Rapid test kits sent to the state have now been withdrawn because they were faulty. Thankfully, our health department ordered some kits which were very useful. If there has been a health hazard here, then we are not responsible for it. Whose fault is it? We have to conduct timely tests. If we fail to do so, then patients may die,” she said.
“Canards are being spread that Bengal is not conducting enough tests,” the chief minister said. However, against the 14,000 test kits sought by the state, the Centre had sent only 2,500, she said.
The ICMR, Banerjee said, supplied rapid testing kits, BGI RT-PCR kits, and antigen kits. Of these, “the rapid testing kits and BGI RT-PCR kits were both withdrawn as per communication from National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) on April 21”, and “antigen kits are not being supplied to hospitals in the state so far”, she said.
“Every day, they (the Centre) are telling us what to do and what not to do, sending people to look into the law and order situation and whether lockdown is being imposed or not. They are sending people to find out whether people in Bengal are getting rations or whether they are being able to take a bath. They are also sending us strongly-worded letters. We can also send them letters. But that’s not the point. Our government is doing the best it can to stem the spread of the pandemic,” she said.
In New Delhi, senior officials of the Government of India claimed that approved laboratories in West Bengal currently have 8,300 RTPCR kits and 5,000 RNA extraction kits with them — this stock is over and above the 13,000 RTPCR kits available with NICED, Kolkata. “Till date, West Bengal has done 3,622 tests, at the rate of 362 tests per day. This means there are close to 5,000 unused RTPCR kits already available with the state,” a senior official who declined to be identified, said.
Banerjee’s comments on Wednesday came a day after a war of words broke out between the state and the Centre over the arrival of two central teams in Kolkata.
Meanwhile, in an interview to The Indian Express, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar questioned the state government’s handling of the pandemic.
“There are no takers for the COVID-19 death figures on account of the series of discrepancies by the state government. The concern of the political parties, the medical fraternity and citizens is well premised. The trust deficit on this count between the government and the medical fraternity as also between the government and the people has attracted national and global focus. The concept of Audit Committee, unheard of so far, has worsened the situation,” he said.
The Governor also took a critical view of the state’s public distribution system during the lockdown.
“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,” Dhankhar said.
Responding to these allegations, Mayor of Kolkata and state Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said: “With all respect, I challenge the Hon’ble Governor to show me a single case where the TMC or anyone attached to the party has done any corruption in regard to the rationing system. In the hard lockdown situation, maybe there was some problem in distribution system. But that is not corruption. After getting information from the public, the chief minister herself took strict action against the department and the secretary. The government is trying hard to normalise the rationing system.”
On the discrepancies in the number of deaths, Hakim said, “The government has no intention to suppress the facts. The Governor is always in tune with the voice of the opposition, especially the BJP. The state government is continuously fighting against COVID-19, and the chief Minister has hit the streets herself to spread awareness. The state government is doing this on its own, without any help from the Centre. And just see what the Governor is doing?”
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