Lockdown violations and the health hazards arising out of such violations are “especially serious” in various “hotspot” districts of West Bengal, that include State capital Kolkata, its twin city Howrah, and other districts such as North 24 Parganas, Medinipur East, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Kalimpong, as per an “order” of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
In order to ensure “spot assessment” and issue necessary suggestions for redress, two inter-ministerial central teams have been set up for West Bengal. Reports by this team are to be submitted to the Centre “in the larger interest of the general public”.
The MHA has pointed out incidents of violation that include violence on frontline healthcare professionals, complete violation of social distancing norms outside banks, PDS shops, and markets, and movement of private and commercial vehicles with passengers in urban areas, among others.
“Whereas, 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 to the population in the district and for those living in other parts of the country. 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 Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri districts in the state,” said the order dated April 19, addressed to the Chief Secretary of the State.
This, incidentally, is the third such correspondence that the MHA has shot off to the State flagging concerns over lockdown violations, relaxation of rules to allow opening of shops selling non-essential items and allowing religious congregations in some places.
In a recent administrative meeting, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that some districts like Medinipur East and Kalimpong have already been upgraded to “orange zones” with no new Covid-19 cases being reported from there.
She had also expressed concerns about rising incidents of cases from Howrah, Kolkata and North 24 Parganas. Howrah and Kolkata, which apparently account for 90 per cent of the coronavirus cases in the State. Till April 19, there were 198 positive active cases in the State.
A 14-day timeline had been given to the authorities to upgrade these “red zones into orange ones”. Containment operations are on in select areas of these districts.
CM frowns on teams
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister put out a series of tweets raising objections to deploying inter-ministerial central teams. According to her, the basis of selecting these districts is “unclear” and until there is clarity on the issue, the State “would not be able to move ahead” on this.
“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 (inter-ministerial central teams) in select districts across India including few in West Bengal under Disaster Mgmt Act 2005 is unclear,” she tweeted.
In a thread she wrote: “I urge both Honb’le Prime Minister @NarendraModi Ji & Home Minister @AmitShah Ji to share the criterion used for this.”
According to Banerjee, moving ahead with the inter ministerial central teams without clarity on the subject is “not consistent with the spirit of federalism”.
Inter-ministerial central teams
Each of the two inter-ministerial central teams consists of five members, from across different government departments.
One team will be surveying the hotspot districts in south Bengal covering Kolkata, Howrah, Medinipur East and North 24 Parganas, while the second team will cover the north Bengal districts including Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
The teams have apparently been set up under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The inter-ministerial central teams will issue necessary directions to the State authorities for redressal of the issues at hand. They will “also focus on” issues like supply of essential commodities, maintenance of social distancing norms in the movement of people outside their homes, preparedness of the health infrastructure, hospital facilities, and sample statistics in the districts, safety of health professionals, availability of PPEs, masks and other safety equipment, and also conditions at the relief camps forthe poor.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation will provide travel arrangements (from Delhi to the nearest airport), and the State government has been asked to make other arrangements. The central teams will commence their visit “not later than three days” from the date of the order.