Covid-19 in West Bengal: Mamata Banerjee has been at odds with the Centre over the constitution of two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams for West Bengal. She had even refused to move ahead until the Centre explained the basis on which the decision was taken.
Coronavirus in Bengal: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been lately under fire for her “complete mishandling” of COVID-19 pandemic in her state. Her lockdown implementation is selective and numbers are fudged — these are among the key allegations levelled against her by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Lockdown and social distancing are believed to be the only vaccine the Centre has at this moment to fight COVID-19. And the responsibility of enforcing a total shutdown lies with the state where the chief minister shoulders the onus to prepare a roadmap in coordination with the Centre to ensure the lockdown is effectively implemented.
Apart from the lockdown, it is critical that the Centre gets correct and real-time information about the spread of coronavirus from the state in order to devise plans to fight the pandemic. However, Mamata Banerjee is failing on both counts, suggests Swapan Dasgupta, Rajya Sabha MP nominated by the BJP. He says that there is complete suppression of information in West Bengal — an allegation Mamata Banerjee denies vehemently on Twitter.
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“Those who are COVID positive are being shown as comorbidities. In fact, there is a calculation that if the number of deaths with yardstick used by Bengal is applied nationally — our national death toll would be reduced from 900 (till April 28) to 110. West Bengal’s number is only 10 per cent of the national figure,” Swapan Dasgupta says while speaking to Financial Express Online. However, the most worrying and alarming thing, he adds, is that bodies are being disposed of without any reference to their relatives.
“It is just happening, there is enough evidence of it. There was a near riot in Alipurduar where they (state authorities) tried to bury a body in a riverside and tribal community there (ojected) and three police jeeps were burnt, some people say shots were also fired,” the parliamentarian said.
On April 23, the West Bengal unit of BJP had shared a video in which a girl claimed that her mother had died of COVID-19 and the family did not get to see her or perform her last rites. She said her mother was admitted on April 17 and four days later, her family was informed that she had died. The girl said that her family was not aware of anything that happened to her mother in those four days. Visibly disturb, the girl said her father too had been picked up by the authorities and admitted to a hospital. Since there was no update on her father’s condition from the authorities, the girl put out the video crying for help.
Swapan Dasgupta further says that the implementation of the nationwide lockdown has been very selective in Bengal. According to him, there is no lockdown in Muslim areas. “People are doing whatever they feel like. And if you try to impose lockdown, you get attacked.” He blames Mamata Banerjee for this and says, “this has been allowed to happen so they (people) think this is their right.” In fact, lockdown was among the key reasons why Centre had to dispatch teams to see what was happening in West Bengal.
But the Rajya Sabha MP says that half of the time the central teams are not even allowed to go anywhere and there has been non-cooperation from the Mamata administration. “The chief secretary of West Bengal says the central team can relax at BSF facilities and take seven days of holiday — these are the words being used by the chief secretary,” Dasgupta told Financial Express Online. Mamata Banerjee has been at odds with the Centre over the constitution of two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) for West Bengal. She had even refused to move ahead until the Centre explained the basis on which the decision was taken.
The Central teams had first landed in Kolkata on April 20 and what happened next was best explained by a letter by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the West Bengal government the next day, April 21. The MHA wrote that it had been brought to its notice that both the central teams had not been provided with the requisite co-operation by the state and local authorities. They had been “specifically restrained from making any visits, interacting with health professionals, and assessing the ground level situation”.
Days later, the central team shot off another letter seeking an explanation on how the state was deciding corona-related deaths. This was significant as the state had ordered weeks ago that only a designated team would decide whether the death was due to coronavirus or any other disease — a move that many felt was aimed at concealing the real number of coronavirus deaths.
This Tuesday, Swapan Dasgupta shared another order by the West Bengal government to the Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital, Berhampore in Murshidabad. In the order, which had a roster of doctors handling COVID-19 patients, it was clearly stated that coronavirus should not be mentioned in the death certificate even if the patient was tested COVID-19 positive. “Not only this, there is something called provisional death certificate and a death audit committee – these are some weird things that are happening in the state,” the Rajya Sabha MP says.
Absolutely scandalous. This official circular in Murshidabad (W Benga) clearly states that Covid19 positive should not be mentioned in death certificate. Will fudging the figures alter the grim reality of a callous state government? pic.twitter.com/pI9fdWnZsW
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) April 28, 2020
Financial Express Online reached out through a call to one of the doctors mentioned in the roster to verify if there was indeed any such order issued by the higher authorities. The answer was an abrupt: “I don’t know” before he hung up.
The parliamentarian expressed concern that suppressing information or fudging data can seriously affect the fight against COVID-19. He says the national statistics are completely dependent on states because only the state has the basic wherewithal to provide the statistics. “And if you (state) fudge the data, the statistics then your entire national planning is disrupted — what is the red zone, what is the green zone and what is the orange zone is so dependent on these figures,” he says.
Based on the number of positive cases, the Centre gets to know the trends and then decides whether to tighten or relax the restrictions at a particular place — a step almost everyone wants as the nation has already spent over a month under complete lockdown.
However, the numbers coming from West Bengal are disputed. Dasgupta says there are four districts where no cases have been reported, these are Murshidabad, Malda, North and South Dinajpur — border districts with Bangladesh. “I believe they (state) are not even trying to get the numbers. There is no lockdown implementation there. In Murshidabad, people move around with impunity. And why was the circular put for Murshidabad,” he asks.
Finally, he says that a formal warning to the state is called for under Article 355 of the Indian Constitution. Article 355 gives the Centre the right to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance. West Bengal has so far reported 725 cases and 22 deaths.