The Centre has said the Covid-19 situation is “especially serious” in Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Jaipur, Calcutta and a few other places in West Bengal, and warned state governments that violation of lockdown measures risks the spread of the novel coronavirus further.
The Union home ministry also announced that six inter-ministerial central teams (IMCTs) would visit the identified areas in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan within the next three days for an on-the-spot assessment and recommend remedial measures to the Centre.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was among the first to react to the Centre’s move, saying that the basis on which the Centre had proposed to deploy its teams was “unclear” and added “we would not be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this might not be consistent with the spirit of federalism”.
In identical orders issued to the four states on Sunday, the home ministry listed several violations that included incidents of violence against doctors and health care workers.
The ministry said in some districts, a number of violations to the lockdown measures had been reported, posing a serious health hazard and risk for the spread of Covid-19 which include violations of social distancing norms outside banks, PDS shops and in market places, movement of private and commercial vehicles with passengers in urban areas and so on.
“These incidents, if 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 those living in other areas of the country,” the ministry said.
After analysing the prevalence of such violations in major hotspot districts, it is clear to the central government that the situation is “especially serious” in Mumbai and Pune (Maharashtra), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Calcutta, Howrah, East Midnapore, North 24-Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri (West Bengal), the home ministry said.
The death toll due to Covid-19 rose to 543 and the number of cases climbed to 17,265 in the country on Monday, according to the Union health ministry.
There are 4,203 confirmed cases in Maharashtra of which 223 people lost their lives. In Madhya Pradesh, out of the 1,407 cases, 70 people have succumbed to the disease.
Rajasthan has reported 1,478 cases of which 14 people lost their lives. In West Bengal, there are 339 confirmed cases of which 12 people have died, according to health ministry data.
After the government announced its decision to send teams, the Bengal chief minister tweeted, “We welcome all constructive support & suggestions, especially from the Central Govt in negating the #Covid19 crisis. However, the basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy IMCTs in select districts across India including few in WB under Disaster Mgmt Act 2005 is unclear.”
“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,” she added.
The orders, signed by Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla, in his capacity as the chairperson of the National Executive Committee under the Disaster Management Act, also said the six inter-ministerial central teams would visit these hotspot areas and make on-spot assessment of the Covid-19 situation in these places and issue necessary directions to the four states.
Six teams to focus on compliance
The teams, comprising five members each, will be headed by an additional secretary-rank officer of the central government.
The six teams will make on-the-spot assessment of the situation, issue necessary directions to the state authorities for redressal of the situation, and submit their report to the central government in larger interest of general public.
The IMCTs will focus their assessment on the compliance and implementation of lockdown measures besides issues like the supply of essential commodities, social distancing, hospital facility and sample statistics in the district, safety of health professionals, availability of test kits, PPEs, masks and other safety equipment, and conditions of the relief camps for labour and poor people.
Later on Monday, joint secretary in the Union home ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said home secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to the states afresh as some of them were issuing certain guidelines that amounted to “diluting” the lockdown leading to “severe repercussions to health” of the citizens.
“MHA is regularly monitoring the lockdown situation in the country. Wherever lockdown is being violated we (MHA) are taking adequate action in coordination with state governments,” she said.
“The purpose of the inter-ministerial teams is to provide support and assistance to the states in their endeavour to combat COVID-19,” she said.
“The teams have been very carefully constituted so that support can be provided from health, administrative and disaster management aspects and I am sure states will benefit from it,” she added.
Civil aviation ministry arranging transport
The orders also made it clear that the ministry of civil aviation will provide air transportation, to and from, from New Delhi to their respective place of visit (nearest airport), as their deployment is for an essential purpose of ensuring compliance to the lockdown measures.
The state governments will have to provide logistics support to the IMCT, for their accommodation, transportation, PPEs and extend all cooperation for their visits to local areas, production of documents and records as requested by the IMCTs.
There have been several incidents of attacks on healthcare workers and police in various parts of the country, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, leading to injuries to doctors, paramedics and police personnel.
The lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It was further extended till May 3.