Why COVID-19 inspection teams sent by Centre are sinister

At 10:10 am on April 20, a cargo plane landed in Kolkata carrying government officials from Delhi. These were the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs), allegedly sent on a monitoring mission to assess the COVID-19 situation in seven districts of Bengal. On paper, that would appear to be an above board, routine public health exercise. In reality, it was part of a sinister political move.

Three hours after the plane and the IMCTs landed – yes, three hours – at 1 pm, the Union Home Minister phoned the Chief Minister of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, and told her the IMCTs had been sent. The IMCTs were supposed to work in conjunction with the state government with logistical support from local authorities. However, they hit the ground without so much as corresponding with the state government.

Cooperative federalism? Constitutionalism? States’ rights? Forget it. None of this mattered. The states, including Bengal, are busy fighting the novel Coronavirus. The BJP government at the Centre is busy fighting opposition-run states. This is not just disappointing, it is downright irresponsible. Can’t we postpone politics to the winter? Or is the BJP so worried about the 2021 Bengal assembly elections which are a full year away?

IMCTs have been sent to seven districts in Bengal – Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas, Medinipur, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Kalimpong. These seven districts have 224 cases. Bengal has four notified hotspots but seven districts are being visited. Of the seven districts, Darjeeling has only three cases. Its last positive case was detected on April 14. The last positive case in Kalimpong was detected on April 2 and in Jalpaiguri on April 4. What logic is the IMCT itinerary following? What parameters and criteria were used? I humbly request Messrs Modi-Shah to answer.

As Mamata Banerjee put it in a tweet (and I’m quoting verbatim): “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.”

The provisions of the Disaster Management Act of 2005 have been grossly misused to trample on a state government’s rights. To top it all, this IMCT invasion has coincided with the Indian Council for Medical Research crippling Bengal’s efforts by despatching faulty test kits that it now says must not be used. It seems the BJP cares for Bengali votes, not Bengali lives.

Why is Bengal complaining, you may ask. IMCTs have also been sent to other states, haven’t they. Yes they have, but Bengal has been singled out for unfair treatment and special attention. Bengal has about 300 COVID-19 positive cases but seven districts are seeing IMCT visits. Madhya Pradesh has 1,500 cases but only one district merits an IMCT. In Maharashtra, the equivalent statistics are 4,700 cases and two districts; and in Rajasthan, 1,600 cases and one district.

Consider another bunch of numbers. Gujarat has five hotspots and 1,900 positive cases. Tamil Nadu has 22 hotspots and 1,500 positive cases. Uttar Pradesh has nine hotspots and 1,200 cases. Telangana has eight hotspots and 900 cases. Andhra Pradesh has 11 hotspots and 700 cases. Delhi has 11 hotspots and 2,100 cases. The percentage of deaths among total cases is 3 per cent in Bengal. In Punjab it is 6.5 per cent, in Karnataka 3.9 per cent and in Gujarat 3.6 per cent.

Of all the states I have mentioned in the paragraph above, only Bengal has had IMCTs inflicted on it. Not one other state.

Do note that in all the other states, assembly elections have just got over or are several years away. Tamil Nadu votes in 2021 but it has a BJP-friendly government. Bengal is being harassed. And to emphasise that, our state’s Governor living in Kolkata Raj Bhavan shakha has been on television all day, criticising the Trinamool Congress government and politicising his office.

The people of Bengal are watching this sordid drama. They will remember.

[This article appeared on NDTV.com | Wednesday, April 22, 2020]