Bengal On A Collision Course With Centre Over Visit Of Central Covid-19 Inspection Teams

Bengal On A Collision Course With Centre Over Visit Of Central Covid-19 Inspection TeamsWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Prime Minister Modi
Snapshot
  • The ball is now in the Bengal government’s court.

    Its continued defiance and non-cooperation with the ICMTs and thwarting the teams from doing their work would set it off on a serious collision course with the Union Government.

A defiant Bengal government prevented the two inter-ministerial central teams (IMCTs) which landed in the state Monday from venturing out and visiting any place Tuesday.

While the ruling Trinamool dubbed the visit of the two teams as adventure tourism, the Union Government hit back with a stern letter asking the Bengal government to cooperate.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote a DO (demi-official) letter to state chief secretary Rajiva Sinha Tuesday afternoon asking him to “comply with” the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued Sunday (about the visit of the two IMCTs to Bengal). The chief secretary has been directed to “make all necessary arrangements for the IMCTs to carry out such responsibilities as has been entrusted to them”.

The letter (D.O.No, 40-10/2020-DM-1[A]) reminded the Bengal government that the IMCTs “have been deputed under the authority conferred on Central Government under Section 35 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, sub-clause 1”.

The Union Home Secretary’s letter lists the sub-clause: “...the Central Government shall take all measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of Disaster Management”.

The letter also reminded the Bengal government of the Supreme Court order of March 31 this year which asked state governments to “faithfully comply with the directives and orders issued by the Union of India in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety”.

Pointing out that the apex court’s orders must be followed strictly, the Union Home Secretary said that the “obligations imposed on the state governments  in the interest of preventing the spread of COVID-19 must be strictly followed.

The Union Home Secretary said that the IMCTs which are Kolkata and Jalpaiguri (in North Bengal) “have not been provided with the requisite cooperation by the state and local authorities”.

“In fact, they have been specifically restrained from making any visits, interacting with health professionals, and assessing the ground level situation. This amounts to obstructing the implementation of the orders issued by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and equally binding directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” the letter read.

The letter written by the Union Home Ministry
The letter written by the Union Home Ministry

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted Monday soon after the two teams landed in the state that the “basis on which Centre is proposing to deploy two IMCTs….is unclear”. She urged Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to “share the criterion (for the deployment of the two teams)” with the state government. “Until then I am afraid we would be able to move ahead on this as without valid reasons this may not be consistent with the spirit of federalism,” she added.

Her Monday afternoon tweet provided enough indication that the Bengal government would not cooperate with the two IMCTs (read this).

Banerjee also wrote to Prime Minister Modi complaining that she was informed through a telephone call by Home Minister Amit Shah about the visit of the two IMCTs three hours after the teams had landed in the state.

She also said in her letter to Modi that the state chief secretary received the MHA’s communication (dated April 19, 2020) about the visit of the IMCTs to Bengal only 30 minutes before the arrival of the teams Monday morning.

Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, who was speaking more like a Trinamool spokesperson than a bureaucrat, said Monday evening: “The Centre has not given any prior information to the state at all. It is a big issue. We are here to facilitate them. We will not allow them to enter the state. If they think that with help of BSF or SSB, they can travel to any place of their choice, they are mistaken”.

The leader of the IMCT that is in Kolkata reported Tuesday afternoon that the team has been informed by the state authorities that they will not be allowed to move out.

The team leader Apurva Chandra (an additional secretary in the Ministry of Defence) told a news channel: “We have been deployed by the central government and our order of deployment says that the state government is to provide logistic(al) support to us... I have been in touch with the chief secretary and seeking his support since the time I landed here.

“I had also met him yesterday. But today we have been informed that there are some issues so we are not going out today. The chief secretary is likely to visit us and we will again hold a meeting with him,” he told a TV news channel.

The ball is now in the Bengal government’s court. Its continued defiance and non-cooperation with the ICMTs and thwarting the teams from doing their work would set it off on a serious collision course with the Union Government.

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