Stating it had information that West Bengal was not cooperating with the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams sent to the state for assessment of the situation in Covid-hit districts, the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to the state government Tuesday, reminding it that the Centre’s orders were binding on the state.
The MHA recalled that Supreme Court directions in the matter were on similar lines and asked West Bengal to provide all support to the IMCTs.
The ruling TMC reacted angrily, saying while states were fighting the coronavirus, the Centre was fighting states.
TMC leader Derek O’Brien tweeted, “States, incl Bengal, going all out — fighting Corona. Unfortunately, central govt is going all out — fighting the States! Is this the spirit of federalism? Is this what our Constitution says? Let’s make handling health emergency our priority. Politics can wait till winter.”
In his letter to West Bengal, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the IMCTs comprise public health specialists and officers of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose expertise can be leveraged by the state government.
“It has been brought to the notice of this Ministry that both the IMCTs, at Kolkata and Jalpaiguri respectively, have not been provided with the requisite cooperation by the State and local authorities. In fact, they have been specifically restrained from making any visits, interacting with health professionals, and assessing the ground level situation,” the letter stated.
“This amounts to obstructing the implementation of the Orders issued by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and equally binding directions of the Hon‘ble Supreme Court. You are, therefore, directed to comply with the MHA Order dated April 19, 2020 and make all necessary arrangements for the IMCTs to carry out such responsibilities as have been entrusted to them vide the aforesaid Order,” the letter stated.
On Monday, the MHA sent letters to West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan — all ruled by the Opposition — and Madhya Pradesh, saying that lockdown measures were being routinely flouted in their districts, and it was sending six newly constituted IMCTs for on-the-spot assessment of the situation there.
The IMCTs, headed by Additional Secretary rank officers, will submit a report to the Centre. They have been authorised to issue necessary directions to state authorities for redressal.
Referring to lockdown violations, the MHA, in letters to the four states, said: “These incidents, if they are allowed to occur without any restraining measures in hotspot districts or emerging hotspots, with large outbreaks or clusters, pose a serious health hazard, both for the population of these districts and for that living in other areas of the country.”
In the case of West Bengal, the MHA has identified seven districts where it said “the situation is especially serious” in terms of “prevalence of such violations”.
On Tuesday, Punya Salila Srivastava, Joint Secretary in MHA, said: “The central government constituted four teams under the National Disaster Management Act that were sent to four states. While those in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are working with the full cooperation of the state government, in West Bengal the teams in Kolkata and Jalpaiguri have had no cooperation, either from the state government or the district administration. They cannot visit the fields, are not being allowed to talk to people or assess the ground situation. This is a violation of the Centre’s orders. We have written to the state to see that the teams can do their work.”
Earlier in the day, TMC’s Derek O’Brien told reporters: “They (IMCTs) are welcome if they come as per procedure, in the spirit of cooperative federalism… Every time they show bias… they are insulting the people of West Bengal.”
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