Home ministry spokesperson Punya Salila Srivastava said the West Bengal government’s actions amounted to obstructing implementation of the order issued on Monday under the Disaster Management Act where state authorities were asked to make arrangements for the IMCTs (inter-ministerial central teams) to assess the ground situation.
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“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 situation,” home secretary Ajay Bhalla said in a letter to the West Bengal chief secretary.
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The war of words, however, became heated with Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee tweeting, « You cripple West Bengal with faulty kits from ICMR and then send IMCTs to monitor its performance while keeping the state government in the dark. In the name of combating the Covid-19 crisis, you’re playing with the lives of Bengalis while your leaders use skewed testing numbers for fake propaganda. »
The Centre had previously written to West Bengal pointing out that social distancing was being slackly implemented. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the state would implement curbs with a « human face ».
In its previous communication, the home ministry had pointed to reports that the police were allowing religious congregations and people were thronging vegetable, fish and meat markets in several areas.
Bhalla said West Bengal’s refusal to assist the teams “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 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,” he wrote.
Two central teams have been deputed to West Bengal to review implementation of lockdown measures in identified districts. The teams are led by additional secretary-level officers and comprise senior public health professionals and NDMA officers, “whose expertise can be leveraged by the state government for management of Covid-19 pandemic”, said the home secretary.
Bhalla reminded the state government that the teams were deputed under the authority conferred on the central government under Section 35 of the Disaster Management Act which states that “the central government shall take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of disaster management”.
He also drew attention to the SC’s observation in its order on March 31 that state governments will faithfully comply with the directives and orders issued by the Union of India in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety. “The said observations of the Supreme Court must be treated as directions and faithfully complied with,” he said.
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