One of the two central teams that have been sent to West Bengal to assess the Covid-19 situation in the state visited certain areas of the city on Tuesday, hours after it complained of non-cooperation from the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government.
The team was escorted by Border Security Force (BSF) and state police personnel.
The arrival of the two teams from Delhi without prior information on Monday had triggered a tussle between the Centre and the state government with chief minister complaining to the Prime Minister of “breach of protocol”. Banerjee said the team arrived in the state long before Union home minister telephoned informed her formally over the phone about their visit.
While one team is in the city, another one is in Jalpaiguri district.
The teams have been sent to review the implementation of an ongoing lockdown and take stock of the Covid-19 situation in Calcutta and some other parts of the state.
In addition to West Bengal, inter-ministerial teams of the Union government have also been sent to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic in these states.
In Calcutta, the Central team was seen coming out of the BSF office around 4.45 pm. It then visited certain areas of the city.
Apurva Chandra, the leader of the team who had claimed in the morning that they were told they “will not be going out” during the day, was seen sitting in one of the cars.
Bengal has seven districts on the team’s watch-list. But the state government has claimed that three districts have not reported a single Covid-19 case in 14 days.
The ruling Trinamul Congress has questioned the rationale of sending teams to the Bengal when no central teams were sent to Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi that have a high number of Covid-19 cases.
“States are fighting the virus, the Centre is fighting against some states,” said Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien, accusing the central teams of “adventure tourism” in Bengal.
The Trinamool pointed out that Gujarat, ruled by the BJP, had seen a spike in Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks. The state has the third highest coronavirus cases in the country with 1,939. It has seen 71 deaths.
Earlier in the day, talking to a news channel, Chandra, an additional secretary in the defence ministry, said, “We have been deployed by the Centre and our order of deployment says the state government shall provide logistic support to us…. I have been in touch with the chief secretary and seeking his support since the time I landed here.
“I met him on Monday. But on Tuesday, we were informed that there were some issues, so we will not be going out. The chief secretary is likely to visit us and we will again hold a meeting with him.”
He said they had made it clear that they would be accompanied by state government officers in order to make their visit more productive.
“But now, it has been more than a day and we have only visited the NICED (an ICMR facility) and the state secretariat,” Chandra said.
State chief secretary Rajiva Sinha later clarified, “The central team told us that it wants to visit parts of the city. We agreed and state government officials are accompanying the team.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Centre directed the West Bengal government not to obstruct the work of two central teams visiting the state.
In a letter to chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla said the West Bengal government was not cooperating with the central teams visiting the state to assess the ground situation and were specifically restraining members rom interacting with health workers and touring the affected areas.
In a letter to chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla said it has been brought to the notice of the ministry that the two inter-ministerial central teams, visiting Kolkata and Jalpaiguri, have not been provided with the requisite cooperation by the state and local authorities.
Therefore, the union home secretary said, the state government “is directed to comply to make all necessary arrangements for the central teams to carry out such responsibilities as have been entrusted to them”