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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

‘Our orders binding on you’: MHA to Bengal after Mamata opposes central Covid-19 monitoring team

The TMC responded to the Home Affairs letter by saying that while states were busy fighting coronavirus, the Centre was fighting the states.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Updated: April 21, 2020 7:22:36 pm
Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal, lMCTs, central teams in bengal, TMC, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Indian Express Mamata Banerjee had earlier written to PM Modi, saying the choice of districts for inspection and the Centre’s observations about them are “nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate”. (Express photo)

With West Bengal not allowing Inter-Ministerial Central Teams to visit certain Covid-19-affected districts, the Ministry of Home Affairs has written to the state, stating that the Centre’s orders are binding on it.

Reminding it of Supreme Court directions on the same lines, it has asked West Bengal to provide the Central teams all support they require to assess the situation in the coronavirus-affected districts of the state.

The TMC has responded to this by saying that ‘while states were fighting Corona, Centre was fighting states’.

“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, ” TMC leader Derek O’brien tweeted.

In its letter to West Bengal, the MHA has said that its Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (lMCTs) comprise public health specialists and officers of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose expertise can be used by the state government for management of Covid-19 pandemic.

“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 signed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has said.

Reminding the state of its required role under the Disaster Management Act, the letter has said, “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 has added.

On Sunday, MHA had shot off letters to four states — Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — saying there were frequent lockdown violations in their states. Making general allegations of attack on healthcare workers and gathering at public places, the MHA had constituted six IMCTs headed by additional secretary level bureaucrats from the Centre. It had tasked them with visiting certain districts chosen by MHA as ‘worst performing’ in these states, and make on-spot assessment of the situation.

The IMCTs were supposed to give directions to the states for redressal of the problems they found and also send a report to the Union government.

The move, however, evoked sharp reactions from the West Bengal government, with CM Mamata Banerjee tweeting that the development was against the “spirit of federalism” and until the Centre spelt out the criteria based on which certain districts were chosen for IMCT inspection, the state would not cooperate.

The MHA letter on IMCTs had asked states to provide logistic support to the Central teams.

Banerjee also wrote a letter to PM Narendra Modi on Monday, saying the Centre had put Kalimpong and Darjeeling among districts where “the situation was serious”, even though they had recorded cases in single digits, and the last case reported in Kalimpong was on April 2 and in Jalpaiguri on April 4. It added that this showed the choice of districts and the Centre’s observations about them are “nothing but a figment of imagination and unfortunate”.

Banerjee concluded her letter by saying that such “unilateral action by the Central government was completely undesirable”.

It also informed the IMCTs had already reached West Bengal and were taking the help of Central Armed Police Forces to conduct their operations.

On Tuesday, however, the IMCTs alleged that the state was obstructing their movement. Sources said the state had told the teams that they would be given data, but not taken to the affected districts for inspection.

In an interview to ANI in Bengal, Ministry of Defence Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra, who is heading one of the IMCTs, said, “We came here yesterday and our order of deployment also says that the state government is to provide logistic support to us. I have been in touch with the Chief Secretary since yesterday, seeking support from the state govt to visit the areas. We were assured that we will again have a meeting and be taken around. But today, we were informed that there are some issues and we will not be going out. ”

Chandra said the IMCTs were facing this problem only in West Bengal. “Teams have gone to other states like MP, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. They are getting full support of state governments.They were given the same notice as West Bengal but they have faced no problems,” Chandra said.

Justifying its decision to form the IMCTs, the MHA letter to West Bengal has quoted Sub-Clause 1 of Section 35 of the Disaster Management Act which says: “…the Central Government shall take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of Disaster Management.”

It has also quoted Supreme Court orders to states to “faithfully comply” with Centre’s orders on Covid-19 containment, and said, “In view of the powers exercised by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the clear directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the obligations imposed on the State Governments in the interest of preventing the spread of COVID-19 must be strictly followed.”

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