Bengal governor vs state government again! This time over Covid-19

New Delhi: West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has alleged that the state government was in ‘denial’ about the seriousness of Covid-19, has not optimised the use of test kits the Centre had provided and was “manipulating numbers.” The ruling Trinamool Congress termed the governor’s remarks as “wild and unsubstantiated” allegations.

In a telephonic interview to ET, Dhankhar, known for political activism and run-ins with the Mamata Banerjee government, claimed that the ground situation was “chaotic,” and aggravated because the state administration was “not enforcing the lockdown”.

Trinamool leaders, when contacted, squarely blamed the Centre for announcing the lockdown without preparation, and doing little for migrant workers stranded in various cities. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had recently blamed the Centre for not giving the state enough test kits, medical equipment and approvals for laboratories. Dhankhar, however, claimed there was no problem of kits as ICMR has 27,000 kits in its stock.

“Five thousand kits are lying with the state government for several days and not distributed. The ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research) stance is reflective of the factual situation. ICMR NICED (National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases) has received 42,500 kits for eastern region. NICED, the best equipped outfit in the state, has not been given adequate samples for testing. The need of the hour is to optimise use of testing kits which is not being done,” he alleged.

Dhankar condemned the state government’s decision to have an expert committee to ascertain whether each death was due to Covid-19 or not. “The audit team concept is hurtful to their professionalism as this team takes a call whether the death is due to Covid or not. There is resentment among doctors/health workers in government hospitals in Raigunj as they have not been provided with the PPEs.”

Dhankhar questioned the state government figures and called them “manipulated.” The situation has been aggravated as there was no health bulletin in the first few days. Later, in at least one instance, the figures of Covid-19 related deaths were changed, after announcement, he alleged. “Such tactics are counterproductive and breed rumours and panic. There is no reason why the ground reality should not be shared with people.” He added that he had particularly flagged the ‘callous and communal’ response of the state administration in tracing people who attended the Nizammudin Markaz.

He alleged Banerjee had taken a ‘standalone route’ to fight Covid-19. “Even when the nation responded to the PM’s call by clapping for medical professionals and lighting lamps, Banerjee and her team and party were visibly absent. Even the enforcement of lockdown is around 75% as per credible inputs. Social distancing is heavily compromised in markets, particularly of nonessential items. Religious congregations, inspite of total ban, are taking place with state police and administration watching passively.” He said the Centre should ensure that people strictly adhered to the lockdown through paramilitary forces. It may be noted here that law and order is a state subject and the Centre can only intervene after dismissal of the state government, which is done if it is convinced of collapse of administration based on the report of its representative, the governor.

Trinamool MP Sougata Roy said there was no proof to validate any of the allegations the governor had made. He said the state was following all national testing norms. “These are nothing but wild claims. The state government is acting responsibly in this time of crisis, reaching out to everyone in need. A new scheme to ensure rations reach the people has been implemented, and there are teams constantly monitoring it. What the state wishes to do more is testing. But we are constrained just like other states as the Centre has not been able to procure enough test kits we need,” Roy said. State officials were “doing their best to enforce social distancing norms”, but there was unrest in society as the “Centre failed to provide a roadmap for migrant workers. We have lakhs of migrant labourers from West Bengal in Bengaluru, Kerala, Mumbai, Delhi and other cities. They are stranded with little supplies. They are restive because they cannot go home, which is their right. This has led to more anxiety here.”

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