West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah to explain why the Centre wants to send a team to Bengal to examine violations and dilutions of the coronavirus lockdown. Two inter-ministerial teams are to visit seven districts including state capital Kolkata to look into reports of the lockdown rules being violated.
Shortly after the Home Ministry announced this in an order, the Bengal Chief Minister tweeted that until the Prime Minister and the home minister shared why the decision was taken, her state would not be able to cooperate.
“We welcome all constructive support and suggestions, especially from the central government in negating the #Covid19 crisis. However, the basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy IMCTs (Inter-Ministerial Central Teams) in select districts across India, including a few in West Bengal… is unclear,” Mamata Banerjee tweeted on Monday.
“I urge both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to share the criterion used for this. Until then, I am afraid, we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism,” she said.
The Centre is believed to be concerned about reports of a gradual “dilution” of lockdown in Bengal. For example, sweet shops have been allowed to do business across the state for a few hours each day and people have been seen crowding vegetable, fish and poultry markets without observing lockdown guidelines. These markets are open from 10 am to 6 pm.
I urge both Honb’le Prime Minister @NarendraModi Ji & Home Minister @AmitShah Ji to share the criterion used for this. Until then I am afraid, we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism. (2/2)
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) April 20, 2020
Six central inter-ministerial teams have been mandated to ensure compliance of lockdown guidelines such as social distancing norms, the central government says.
One of the teams is to visit Bengal in the next three days, specifically in districts allegedly violating the nationwide virus restrictions—Kolkata, Howrah, Midnapore East, 24 Parganas North, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, and Jalpaiguri. The team will fly down in a special aircraft.
The teams will assess the situation on the ground, issue necessary directions for remedy, and submit a report to the central government, officials said.
They will also take stock of the supply of essential commodities, health infrastructure preparedness, hospital facilities and sample statistics, safety of health professionals and test kits.
The state government has to provide accommodation, travel and safety gear to the assessors.
This is not the first time the Centre has raised the issue of lockdown violation in Bengal. On April 10, the Union home secretary had written to Bengal’s police chief and Chief Secretary saying intelligence reports had suggested the lockdown was being violated in many parts of the state.
On Friday, Mamata Banerjee did crack the whip and told the police that police should be deployed at marketplaces to ensure there was no crowding and the lockdown should be enforced more strongly than before.